Five key trends in agency teams and talent for 2021

Posted by Deltek on April 6, 2021

TwitterTweet it:'Our latest survey of creative agencies revealed that teams and talent are key preoccupations right now'

We asked 300 agency professionals how their organisation could improve – and attracting, retaining and managing talent was top of their agenda. Here’s what they told us.

Our latest survey of creative agencies revealed that teams and talent are key preoccupations right now – and many feel their agencies could manage these better. Here are five key ‘talent takeaways’ from our annual industry report, Reflect, Recharge, Move On: Creative Agencies in 2021.

1. Attracting and retaining talent is the number-one area for improvement

When asked which areas their agency could improve upon, more than half (54%) of them said “attracting and retaining the right talent”. This just edged out a “more profitable business strategy” (53%) as the single biggest improvement area.

It may seem counterintuitive that so many are concerned about talent acquisition and retention. After all, the Chartered Institute of Marketing estimates that nearly one in 10 marketers (9%) have lost their jobs during the pandemic, so we might expect agencies to have their pick of an enlarged talent pool.

But no one wants to lose the top talent that helped them get this far. The crisis has reaffirmed that well-managed talent is essential to productivity, and exposed weaknesses (65% of SMEs, for example, say the pandemic has highlighted skills gaps). Talent strategy and sourcing was a business focus for 46% of those we surveyed.

2. Resource management was the biggest operational challenge

The renewed focus on talent management comes at a time when the major operational challenges have been “people problems”: resource management was easily the biggest challenge (reported by 64% in our survey), followed by “collaboration” (47%).

Few agency leaders have extensive experience of managing remote workforces, so they’re having to play catch-up fast. Finding new strategies and tools to manage and engage talented employees will be crucial as the workplace evolves. As many have noted, Covid-19 is only accelerating the ongoing shift towards remote and flexible working – and whether we like it or not, there’s no going back.


 

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3. Most agencies expect to keep or grow their teams in 2021

After a year of turbulence and, for many, a furloughed or slimmed-down workforce, there were some cautious signs of optimism regarding staffing. Over a third (39%) expect their team to expand in 2021, while a similar number (36%) thought headcount would remain the same.

On the other hand, 16% anticipated their numbers shrinking this year. The mixed picture no doubt reflects the reality: that pandemic impacts have fallen unevenly in the marketing sector, and many agencies are not out of the woods yet.

Most agency staff weren’t optimistic about getting a pay rise this year: 58% anticipate no change in pay per head. Only 29% expected this to increase in 2021, while one in 10 (13%) expected decreases.

Encouragingly, however, those who were actively involved in company compensation schemes were most optimistic about pay increases. Here’s hoping they know best!

Pie chart are agencies expanding their teams

4. A third of agencies are planning to use more freelance help

In these uncertain times, freelancers have been touted as one possible avenue for agile resource management, allowing agencies to expand project teams and skillsets rapidly. Our research found that a third (33%) of those surveyed planned to increase their ratio of freelance to permanent staff. A larger number (44%), however, expected that balance to remain the same.

Interestingly, agencies with mature digital management systems in place were most likely to be planning to increase their freelance ratio (40%). These agencies may be better able to visualise their resource needs, and book in help as required. And since our data showed digitally mature agencies had more clients and higher profit margins, they’re also likely to be able to afford to expand their teams.

5. A third of agencies lack the talent to evolve digitally

According to KPMG, 78% of UK CEOs say the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the digitisation of operations. And as our full report shows, the most digitally evolved agencies are weathering the pandemic better in a number of ways.

Many have predicted a digital skills gap ahead, which the pandemic has only accentuated. Our research found many agencies are still lagging behind on digital transformation – and one of the major barriers was capability. A third (33%) lacked the specialist skills to deliver change.

Bar chart agency digital transformation and clients

The human challenges of the pandemic have reaffirmed to agencies the value of their top talent. To retain, nurture and grow that talent base going forward, agencies may need to urgently rethink their talent management tools and strategies.

Read more insights on agency management in our report Reflect, Recharge, Move On: Creative Agencies in 2021, carried out in partnership with Campaign Insight.


 

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