Agencies Need to Invest In Existing Talent Versus Recruiting Outsiders, Study Finds

Employees are hungry to learn

Management consulting company smith & beta produced the study.
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For several years now, agencies have been struggling to retain and attract the right talent for the evolving digital age. But findings from a recent study by smith & beta, a talent development and education management firm servicing the advertising industry, show that the answer to this problem could be as simple as investing in and training current employees.

In surveying 1,100 of its clients’ employees for the 2018 State of Digital Transformation and Talent report, smith & beta found that 85 percent of respondents feel they are just “middle of the road” or below average in the critical area of mobile design and development, but they also feel their companies are not doing enough to train them to advance their skills.

Fifty-two percent of respondents said they don’t even know what type of digital work their employer wants to do.

The report also found that 65 percent of respondents feel their company “talks more than it makes”—meaning they are all talk and no action—and 47 percent said they don’t think their employers are generally prepared for the future.

"Why not teach skills we're seeking across the organization?"
Allison Kent-Smith, founder and CEO, smith & beta

Meanwhile, younger employees lumped into the millennial cohort are hungry to learn: 80 percent of those surveyed in that demographic rated the opportunity to pick up new skills as a primary factor in considering a job, and 93 percent said they would spend their own time and money on additional training, according to the report.

While 96 percent of respondents agreed that training is needed to evolve skill sets, only 34 percent said they attended a training session provided by their current employers.

Agencies “hire, hire, hire and then lose them, and then hire, hire, hire, but [they’re] not investing in the people who ride up the elevator every day,” smith & beta founder and CEO Allison Kent-Smith told Adweek. “We have to shift the thinking about resource allocation.”

Kent-Smith said these shops historically outsource to experts on certain projects to “compensate for 100 percent of staff,” but argued that it would be more beneficial to train their in-house employees to become the authorities they seek. For example, Kent-Smith advised agencies to train their creatives basic computer programming skills so they can design mobile and online content themselves.

She also strongly suggested that, as client demand evolves to include everything from creative to consulting, all agency employees should possess basic skills in business management, strategy and data and analytics.

“Why not teach skills we’re seeking across the organization?” she asked.

This evolution of skills could naturally attract a wider variety of talent outside traditional advertising, but Kent-Smith insisted that “most creatives, when it comes down to it, want to learn and are super interested in understanding possibility.”

According to the report, capabilities with which respondents said they are most unfamiliar include:

  • Mobile advertising strategy (58 percent listed themselves as below “middle of the road”)
  • Prototyping (69 percent were below)
  • Nimble content creation (70 percent)
  • KPI/metrics/data analysis (52 percent)
  • User experience (44 percent)
  • Presenting digital ideas (46 percent)

In social media and mobile, which included understanding the basic platforms, behaviors and culture, only 31 percent and 26 percent, respectively, said they are either “semi-experts” or “experts.”

The three skills employees feel most comfortable with, according to the report, include risk-taking, where 42 percent called themselves “experts” and 93 percent were either “semi-experts” or “experts” in conflict resolution and providing feedback.

In the latter category, none of the respondents listed themselves below “middle of the road,” and 93 percent said they were better than average.

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