Industry is facing ‘worst ever’ talent crisis, say bosses

call centre 11Nearly half (48%) of all companies in the advertising and marketing industry believe the sector is facing its “worst-ever crisis” when it comes to talent, topping off at 54% among agencies, with the most pressing issue being a dearth of data and analytics professionals.

That is the damning conclusion of a new study from the World Federation of Advertisers and global media advisors MediaSense, dubbed “Media’s Got Talent?”

It reveals that more than two-thirds (68%) of advertisers, agencies, adtech companies and media owners globally say that talk of a “crisis” is not overstating the matter, a figure that rises to 74% in the US.

In addition, more than three-quarters (77%) of respondents admitted that there is “some” or “high” scarcity of talent in their organisation, peaking at 85% among the agency and ad tech sectors, and at 81% in the US and 93% in APAC.

Perhaps the most worrying finding from study, however, is that 67% of all respondents (76% in APAC) believe that talent scarcity is proving to be a major blocker to growth.

In what is claimed to be the largest study of its kind, the findings are based on responses from more than 400 stakeholders from many of the world’s largest advertisers, agencies, media platforms and technology companies. More than four-fifths (81%) of respondents were at director level, with advertiser respondents responsible for in excess of $110bn in annual communications spend.

Media’s Got Talent? found that the key areas of talent shortage were in data and analytics (84% at both advertisers and agencies), ecommerce/retail media (71% at advertisers and 73% at agencies and measurement (69% at advertisers and 74% at agencies).

Data and analytics were also highlighted as the single most important capability to prioritise for the next two years, with 71% of advertiser and 64% of agencies agreeing, significantly ahead of ecommerce/retail media at 53% and 42% respectively.

Some skills are not in quite such short supply, however. Across all regions and industry cohorts, the disciplines of media buying, social media, influencer marketing and creative are better supplied. For example, only 36% of respondents are seeing scarcity in social and influencer marketing in EMEA. Similarly, disciplines which can be more easily automated or handled via offshoring – such as ad operations or search marketing – are also experiencing less scarcity.

WFA director of global media services Matt Green said: “The talent crisis is affecting all parts of the industry and clients are feeling the pinch within their internal global media teams. But, as this research shows, the impact is particularly pronounced on the agency side and this is having a profound impact on the ability of clients to execute campaigns globally.

“While the industry couldn’t have predicted a global pandemic, this study also identifies intractable, but more predictable issues, that have had a dramatic impact including training, talent management and even a perceived lack of purpose. These factors need to be addressed for the health of all our businesses and in the interest of a stronger client and agency dynamic.”

The factors being blamed for the skills shortage include poor training, talent management (both 76%), a lack of purpose (68%), poor client agency behaviour (61%) and over specialisation and recruitment by tech companies (both 58%).

This latter factor, with tech companies able to offer a different pace of work, alongside more attractive and motivating remuneration is most pronounced in the US (69% vs 52% in EMEA and 59% in APAC). Advertisers are most affected by the tech-steal with 64% of advertisers compared to 49% of agencies agreeing that this is a major contributor to the talent shortage.

Meanwhile, the report claims that too much ‘silo thinking’ and ‘over-specialisation’ of roles is limiting the quality and breadth of advice being given, and the scope of employee learning.

Some 71% of advertiser respondents agree or strongly agree that this is limiting career progression. This is understandable as advertisers typically seek more rounded, commercially minded marketers, over more specialist, siloed thinking, the report authors insist.

Burnout is also a key factor behind talent shortage. More than three-quarters (77%) of respondents think that readdressing the work/life balance would have a significant impact. Investing more in internal talent management (also 76%), greater flexibility about how and where people work (73%) and greater clarity around career progression (72%). Improved salary and benefits were cited by 61%.

Finally, flexibility has become key for many businesses seeking to attract and retain talent, with those harking back to pre-Covid times being met with very disgruntled employees. It is now simply an expectation – particularly with the cost-of-living crisis – that employees will determine how they want to work, rather than have this determined by organisations, the report claims.

MediaSense managing partner Ryan Kangisser said: “This study comes at an important time in the industry with businesses experiencing levels of staff attrition never seen before. And while we remain first and foremost a people-centric business, ‘riding the wave’ is no longer a viable strategy.

“We know the impact this has on future growth, so it is vital that businesses start to invest in talent in a more meaningful way, ensuring they strike a better balance between specialists and all-rounders, youth and experience, expertise and attitude.”

Belinda Smith, founder and CEO of Second Arrow and WFA Global Diversity Ambassador, concluded: “We spend a lot of time bringing in really talented people and asking them to conform to the systems, norms, and culture of the organisation where we should actually be asking them to use their skills and experiences to really change us as an organisation. That’s how we keep moving forward.”

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