The Digital Talent Gap: what it means for your agency (and how to leap over it)

Modern businesses need to be dynamic, agile, and have a strategy which allows them to adapt quickly to changes in their industry. Nowhere is this more the case than in digital marketing. Technology moves fast. Digital moves even faster. Every month there are new areas, new thinking, and new internet technologies to contend with. Keeping up is not easy. Which is why most companies can’t.

Traditional marketing and PR agencies are finding themselves lacking when it comes to satisfying their clients’ increasing need for digital services. So they are hiring digital agencies to meet the demand. Digital agencies are meant to be specialists, right? Experts in all things digital? Right? Wrong. The reality is that most digital agencies are embarrassingly underperforming when it comes to the services they offer.

From personal experience these agencies are hiring underqualified people and letting them handle client accounts with little to no instruction. Many of my own clients have brought me in to ‘repair’ the work done (or rather, not done) by these agencies. How do they get away with it? Well, in short, because the companies hiring them are allowing them to. Unfortunately, a lack of knowledge about digital marketing means it is hard for them to tell the difference between a good or bad agency. As a result, while the demand is increasing, the standard is dropping. This gives rise to something called ‘The Talent Gap’.


First is everything, second is nowhere

According to a study by the Online Marketing Institute, only 8% of marketing agencies feel that their teams had enough skills and experience across all the disciplines their business requires. 71% pointed to weak or mediocre skillsets in the area of digital marketing. In particular, analytics, mobile marketing, content marketing, email marketing and social media were all identified as perceived weak areas.

Worryingly, these are all areas which are becoming vital for the way marketing works in the modern world. More importantly, digital marketing is only effective when all these areas integrate – it is no longer adequate to be great in one area when clients increasingly have multiple customer profiles.

Source: Online Marketing Institute

In the same study, 22% of the businesses surveyed said that the industry is driving more need for specialists, whilst the Talent Gap accounts for 30-43% of agencies’ teams. However, when you consider that the real measure of success is delivering ROI in the form of profit, the figures are probably much higher.

Source: Online Marketing Institute

I’ve had first-hand experience with some really big names in the industry, where the monthly invoices come in at £10-15k but what they’ve been delivering is appalling. Not only that, they were locking clients into year-long contracts. That is a huge amount of money to spend for an embarrassingly low ROI.

However, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Slowly but surely, businesses that hire digital are wising up. They must in order to survive. As stated previously, modern businesses need to stay agile and adapt fast. A recent article in The Guardian highlighted this:

The who-what-how fundamentals are the same but the data we have to make decisions on this is constant and always on. The ability to shift your strategy and plans on the fly, informed by digital data that is emerging all the time (rather than once a year) will distinguish those who pull ahead from those who fall behind.

Shuvo Saha, Director, Google Digital Academy / Source: The Guardian

The old fundamentals of marketing are not changing, but the way we get to those fundamentals are and they’re changing fast. This is exactly why agencies need to address the Talent Gap sooner rather than later.


Why you need to get ahead of the digital curve NOW

Those agencies that are able to address the gap and move ahead of the competition will reap great rewards. There are a multitude of training resources and online courses which can help develop talent in all areas of digital. For example, my own digital learning platform, Acadme, offers digital professionals the chance to skill up in a short space of time, laying out learning plans and tutorials for different levels of experience. This kind of education significantly changes the agency’s skillset, and subsequently their offer. This allows them to better service their clients, deliver better ROI, and ultimately leads to better client retention.

Getting ahead of the digital curve isn’t just a necessity – it’s an opportunity. For the agency, as I said, better success rates, increased client retention and ultimately higher revenue are the rewards. For small businesses it makes them much more viable (and hireable) in a competitive market. For brands, it means greater amplification and market penetration for less spend. Most importantly, the greatest benefit is to individuals, with a huge increase in career prospects and growth potential.

Bogdan Stevanovic