The war for digital talent in advertising

Is there enough 360 experience to go around? Are tighter criteria making the talent pool smaller for recruitment today?

It seems like everyone is chasing after the golden goose right now – the speed at which digital is invading our industry means that suddenly there is a major need for people that not only understand the medium but also how it works and how it fits into the media mix. So suddenly the marketing geek is in demand, but there is definitely segmentation within this group:

  • There are those that still want to work at pure player digital agencies, here there may well be less access to multi-million dollar budgets or CMOs but the projects themselves are more complex and the agencies have the resources to deliver some excellent work; one valid argument I hear is that in an ad agency you simply aren’t surrounded by enough like minded people to grow your own skillset and deliver great work.
  • For the Madison Avenue agencies there is a need to inject some digital know-how into the business and here the more marketing-tuned geeks are hot property not only to keep the business running smoothly but also to share their knowledge with the old guard; at least here there is access to strategic planning, major networks, resources and also more often than not C-level clients.
  • Finally a third group of adventurous thinkers are setting out to redefine the industry and what an agency means – putting strategic thinking and digital at the core of a new offering that sometimes even creates a new agency economic model too. Here we can see some exciting new shops popping up that are keeping everyone on their toes!

So everyone is going after the digital skillset, a dramatic increase in demand and noticeably limited supply – particularly at mid and senior management level – could see agencies struggling in the not too distance future as the crop of young skilled digital-ites come into their prime. This is because the training and learning behind these skillsets does not exist at an academic level (or not much, see Boulder Digital Works at U.Colorado) and so those with the best skills have passed through a limited number of ‘solid’ agencies to develop their thinking and experience; in NY these are RG/A, Digitas, Razorfish in Paris it is FullSIX (I learnt most of what I know there) and Duke (now Razorfish) and in London ModemMedia (now Digitas) and a plethora of others, and these are then supplemented, although to a slightly lesser extent, by the BTL agencies of many major groups (OgilvyOne/Interactive, Wunderman, G2, MRM) depending on where they are in the digital lifecycle.

But what is happening is that these digital boot camps are on the one hand not large enough to act as a training supplier to the whole advertising industry and on the other not particularly happy to be doing it, so they are starting to take a stronger hold on their employees.

So what does this mean, potentially we will start to see some cracks appearing over the next few years, faster in markets where digital has yet to take hold (like the Middle East) as existing agencies need to adapt to the new demands of their clients. How can we prepare for this? Both by making agencies digital (training and recruitment) and forging close alliances with pure-players for the hardcore work. JWT in New York have done just this, by integrating their BTL agency RMG Connect and aquiring digital shop Digitaria which they will keep as a standalone brand – here there seems to be some preparation in the making…

If you have some digital skills and would like to join a rapidly growing team, we are recruiting at Leo Burnett in Dubai, check out our vacancies and apply online at or connect with us on Twitter @LeoBurnettMENA to find out more.

By Lex Bradshaw-Zanger

A digital native and integrated brand marketer with a passion for marketing-communications and product design, Lex has a truly international outlook and experience, having worked both in major marketing agencies and client-side brands across Europe, the US and the Middle East.

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