The truth about talent in 2022 (and why agencies can’t afford to neglect it)

March 17, 2022

TwitterTweet it:'It’s official: getting the right talent in place remains the number one priority – and biggest challenge – for agencies.'

It’s official: getting the right talent in place remains the number one priority – and biggest challenge – for agencies. That’s the key finding of our latest global survey of marketing, advertising, and media agency professionals, carried out in partnership with industry bible Campaign.

The resulting report Talent, transformation, and growth: creative agencies in 2022 revealed a relatively healthy industry picture, with most respondents (57%) feeling optimistic about the future. Yet it also shed light on the pressures that agencies are facing in 2022, and confirmed what many industry leaders have been telling us recently: talent is still top of the agenda.

A whopping 60% of respondents identified “attracting and retaining the right talent” as their agency’s biggest area for improvement, while it was also the top-ranked challenge (for 25%). Meanwhile, talent strategy was ranked as the most important area of focus in 2022.

Attracting and retaining talent is key to ensure project success

Demand for talent is likely to remain high, given that most of those surveyed had added new clients over the past year (52%), diversified into new services (56%), and were producing more work (68%). With agencies striving to resource projects effectively in order to meet client expectations and deliver bigger workloads, it’s not surprising that the majority of respondents (59%) expected their team size to increase in 2022.

“There’s no shortage of talent out there right now, but there’s also no shortage of opportunities around, with many agencies recruiting,” says Neil Munro, General Manager at creative content agency We are Cognitive, one of several industry veterans to provide commentary in the report. “This isn’t lost on people – especially when many have realised that they could do their job effectively from home, rather than commuting to an office every day.”

Those who can offer flexible working arrangements that appeal to employees’ evolving work-life preferences are likely to triumph in the war for talent. Forward-thinking agencies like We are Cognitive – which was already trialling remote working before Covid struck, and has gone fully remote during the pandemic – have even been able to broaden their talent pool as a result.

“In terms of attracting and retaining talent, remote working has been a big positive – you are not limited to those within a 15 to 20-mile radius, but can recruit nationally or even internationally,” Neil says. “It’s easier for us to find people with the right skillsets, and it allows us to be more responsive to our international client base – we can, say, get work done overnight in Australia.”


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Making the most of your talent and managing your resources

Our report also looked in depth at how agencies were trying to improve their talent management strategies. The majority were concentrating on internal staffing, and making the most of existing capacity and capability to resource projects effectively, rather than turning to freelance resource. By far the greatest focus for improvement amongst those surveyed was “attracting and retaining in-house talent”.

“Certain skillsets, like digital, may be in high demand at the moment, but don’t rush to recruit in-house roles,” comments Rachel Walder, Client Engagement Director at membership content agency Think. “It’s always worth taking the time to make sure someone is a good fit; not just with particular projects or clients, but with the agency team and culture as a whole.”

Meanwhile the second and third biggest areas of focus for talent management were “having the right talent available for projects”, and “improving resource allocation and visibility across the business”.

This is something that Neil at We are Cognitive is actively working on. “We’re adopting a workflow management system that will give us joined-up visibility of our resource on retained client teams, our studio capacity, and future potential for growth,” he says. “We’ll be able to move resource around more easily if work drops off or increases.”

And visibility of resource spending is also important; especially given that most (63%) of those surveyed were seeing anything from 11-100% of their projects going over budget! “There are many workflow management systems out there that are user friendly and easy on the eye, but they don’t include the financials. But if you have a system that is simple to use from a user experience perspective and has the numbers, it’s very easy to track the profitability of jobs and spot where you’re going over early on.” notes Neil.

Why tech requires talent (and talent needs tech)

As our full report shows, although the pandemic has accelerated the kind of digital transformation that We are Cognitive is embracing, only 28% of those surveyed considered their agency to be fully digitally mature – with a clear digital strategy and joined-up business and IT management systems. But these digitally mature agencies were outperforming their less tech-savvy rivals when it came to adding clients, building longer client relationships, and increasing profit margins.

So, what was holding agencies back from enjoying the benefits of digitalisation? The greatest single barrier – for around a third of those surveyed (34%) – was a shortage of specialist skills to bring it about. Clearly, recruiting the right digital talent should be a priority for those agencies who know they’re lagging behind on modernisation and still relying on clunky manual processes.

And as agencies seek to recruit from a more flexible, more international and more diverse talent pool, digital transformation should in turn provide new ways to connect, onboard and upskill their people, through online training and development. “New team members with different availabilities and different degrees of experience, and from different cultural backgrounds, often need to get up to speed in a short period of time,” comments Mark Fandre, Head of Global Operations and Enterprise Solutions at Serviceplan Group. “Holistic, automated inhouse e-learning is one of the key factors of success.”

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