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Brains Trust - Industry Skill Shortages

As marketing, media and advertising continues its quick transition to digital and data based structures the issue of skills shortages is greatly impacting these industries.  In conjunction with ADMA, several senior professionals from our Australian market offer their views on this major industry challenge.


At the base of the page you can also see several worthwhile trade media articles which continue to highlight the ongoing skills shortages issue.


Thank you to everyone for their involvement.

Click on each name to go directly to their comments - or scroll down the page...

Leigh Terry - CEO at Omnicom Media Group (Aust & NZ)MediaScope Brains Trust - Leigh Terry - Omnicom


What do you think the current skills and education gaps are in our industry and how are they impacting on your business?

The media industry has long suffered from growing pains with an annual increase in
staff numbers of over 10%. Add the fact that the industry is majority Millennial who love to travel and the pressure on finding the right talent is constant and acute. There is c. 30%+ churn on an annual basis across the industry.


Media agency services, and the skills required to deliver them, have expanded greatly in recent years from being planners and buyers of traditional media to delivering an array of communication solutions such as content creation, social media engagement and a range of digital and data driven analytic services. Each additional service requires new and extended skills and expertise. As these additional services are driven by brand new technology there is limited pipeline of qualified employees with the necessary specialist skills. The impact on our business and the media industry as a whole is a shortage of talent which puts pressure on existing employees and causes remuneration inflation.


What are you doing about it?

OMG were quick to recognise the impending skills gap challenge and have introduced a number of initiatives in recent years:

  • University relationships - OMG have close relations with most major universities to access the best students across numerous faculties including those providing digital and data degrees. OMG employees lecture at many universities including Sydney Uni, CSU, QUT, UNSW, UTS, RMIT and Macquarie. At CSU and Macquarie we run course modules in which OMG client’s live campaigns are briefed to students and their responses judged 6 weeks later. We are then able to identify and offer roles to the best students upon them graduating.
  • Increased investment in learning & development for existing employees to widen their skills to include new communication options. Employees have recently been taught how to code, create social media content and the art of storytelling. All OMG employees are encouraged to spend 20% of their time on self-development and given additional financial and leave assistance to pursue learning outside of work hours.
  • The extensive OMG network allows the transfer of employees across country boarders thus enabling us to be flexible with existing employees and to alleviate particular market skill shortages.

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JJ Eastwood - Managing Director at RocketFuel (Aust & NZ)

What do you think the current skills and education gaps are in our industry and how are they impacting on your business?

For the most part media buyers across the country are embracing are newMediaScope Brainstrust on Skills Shortages - JJ Eastwood - RocketFuel technologies, such as programmatic advertising, however there are still skills gaps on basics like setting clear campaign objectives, implementation and attribution methodologies. Couple this with a complex programmatic ecosystem with a sleuth of new vendors entering the market every month and you have an ever growing need for continuous education. 

What are you doing about it?

To assist in tackling this mammoth task we have launched a range of initiatives from whitepapers, webinars and podcasts covering the basics like programmatic 101 to more technical issues around viewability, brand safety and attribution. While all of these initiatives have been well received you simply can't beat face to face conversations where people can be open and frank and have their questions addressed on the spot. 

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Jodie Sangster - CEO at ADMA

What do you think the current skills and education gaps are in our industry and how are they impacting on your business?

The talent shortage has been increasing as the realm of what constitutes marketing,MediaScope Brains Trust - Skills Shortages - Jodie Sangster - ADMA media and advertising expands – there’s definitely a shortage in digital skills, we know there’s a talent shortage in data/analytics with few analytics professionals on the ground, but I’m also hearing about shortages in social, content, programmatic and yes even creative. We must address this. 

One thing we have to do better as a community is to upskill and look outside the obvious to find those skills. This means looking in different places and industries.  Get your HR people to think ‘outside the box’ when it comes to recruitment. And look at the people you already have: You might have people in- house who possess a creative flair or nous for data. Look at investing in those people, even when it’s not their job.


What are you doing about it?

At ADMA, we have been addressing the talent shortage through education and training. Currently we are overhauling our education offerings to meet the industry’s needs in topics like content, creativity, data, technology and customer experience. We can’t rely on tertiary institutions alone to provide the way forward, we have the responsibility to be up to date as the peak industry body for marketers.


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Belinda Kerr - Managing Director of Recruitment Agency ICUR


What do you think the current skills and education gaps are in our industry and how are they impacting on your business?MediaScope Brains Trust - Skills Shortages - Belinda Kerr ICUR

We are now in the most exciting period of change and opportunity for our industry; we are seeing hundreds of inspiring businesses start up, space age technological developments - apple watches, machine learning etc and unlimited global commercial opportunity. Yet, ironically we are still approaching looking for talent like it’s the 1950s.


There are many things we can do to attract more skilled workers from lobbying governments to create incentives to looking at our own internal workforces and re-training. However, I believe there is bigger consideration that will help sustain many of these initiatives long term...


Skills based recruitment is a strategy from the industrial age, it worked when skills required for a job lasted many years and often over people’s entire careers. It is now obsolete because skills are so transient. We have transitioned into the information age and are rapidly approaching the age of wisdom. Skills shortage puts the focus firmly on what people can do today and of course there is a certain validity in a level of upfront ROI, however the scales are tipped way too heavily towards skills.  We are now running around looking for ways to address the skills shortage when the real game is looking at the enormous opportunity to lead a global mindset change and switch the focus to identifying and attracting attributes of increasing importance like the ability to adapt and learn new skills quickly in this rapidly evolving landscape. This ability is critical for fast moving businesses.


What if we started the people/skills resource question with “How can we attract people who will play a key part in the mid – longer term success of the business?” Or are we as an industry so far down the short term thinking path it is too late? By asking this question we then start creating hiring strategies which reduce headcount turnover rates of around 30%.  This will put less pressure on finding skills and counter the spiralling salary issue when competing for talent. 


I’m not so naive to think certain skills aren’t important upfront, of course they are, especially those that have taken years to develop, however the short term approach of “I need someone to hit the ground running” (which we hear almost every time we take a brief) is unsustainable, unrealistic and a legacy of the past. Yes, we need immediacy around training for certain skills but as an industry I think we’ve pretty much got that covered and companies are doing some great things here. The real opportunity is to change our entire mindset to a mid – long term view on hiring. Without action this situation will worsen - if you think 30% turnover is high, get ready for that to increase as more opportunities open up with jobs we don’t even know about yet.


We are an industry of creative minds, imagine if we started to change our mindset, strategies and commitment from ”we have a skills shortage” to “how do we build inspiring, invested and world class teams?”


What would that look like for your business and the industry as a whole? It would certainly get us noticed globally and attract more people to the market – there are tens of thousands of Aussies sitting in Silicon Valley, maybe some of them would be tempted home. Imagine a team of resourceful, adaptable, passionate, coachable, loyal and invested people, Sound good? Not one of those attributes is a learned skill.


What are you doing about it?


Last year ICUR launched a free professional development initiative called TRACTION. This is an ongoing series of learning opportunities where industry thought leaders share their knowledge and insights to contribute to the overall development of the industry. We run monthly webinars and events on a range of topics of interest to people in media, advertising, marketing, creative and digital.


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Nick Baker - CEO at RedBalloon

What do you think the current skills and education gaps are in our industry and how are they impacting on your business?MediaScope Brains Trust - Skills Shortages - Nick Baker RedBalloon


When I was appointed RedBalloon CEO earlier this year, I was eager to amplify the business’ efforts around the use of content, social and digital. To say we’re undergoing some big changes behind the red door would be a massive understatement, but we’re utilising this period of change as an opportunity to reflect, reevaluate and grow. We’re a small business with 70 people working with a network of 1,000 businesses across Australia and New Zealand. As such, we hold high expectations of our employees, and expect all new recruits to have a broad range of specialist skills.


We recently recruited a handful of positions within our marketing team, and one of the main skills missing from the talent pool was a good understanding of finance. It might seem a little left of field, but it’s crucial to know how marketing efforts can impact the finance team within an organisation. The other important relationship for marketers is that with the CTO. It’s crucial that marketers and CTOs can work really closely together as more and more expenditure for organisation’s technology is all out of marketing. The ability to see where a CTO is coming from is vital – they need to be able to deep dive in the tech zone. What we’re looking for in new candidates is an ability to work with a variety of different people from different teams, which means communication is key. We’re also looking for people with a good understanding of what drives a business. Knowledge and skills around digital, technology and finance are more important now than ever. 


We’re finding through a lot of different disciplines that learning is key. If we take the old adage that you are never going to see the world move as slowly as in the last ten years, then it enforces that we need to reflect on how we are learning and adapting. I don’t think anyone can do that without spending an hour a day looking at what else is going on in the world of business. Too often, specialties like marketing, finance and tech are spending a lot of time in their own insular areas of speciality and they need to broaden their outlook into other areas like leadership and management. It’s important to look at what other businesses are doing and pay particular attention to those in the start-up space as you’ll get a good indication of what’s changing and new. 


What are you doing about it?

We’re a small business so we expect our employees to have a broad range of specialist skills for one role. A lot of candidates come to us with one or two specialties but we need them to have three or four. We’re not just asking you to do a job, but to test, analyse and report back afterwards. 


One of the things we’re currently focusing more on is where we’re hiring from in terms of skill set and industry set. We have previously spent a lot of our time and attention above the line, when we are at heart a tech and ecommerce company. As such, when we recruited for a new Head of Marketing, we needed to make sure that our priority was hiring someone with those particular skills regardless of industry. Our new Head of Marketing - Bonnie Thorn - has come out of the finance and tech sectors, but she is also very digitally savvy. We needed someone with those skills plus the ability to communicate this to the rest of the team. It’s an incredibly exciting time for RedBalloon, and the online space – we just need to keep up and collaborate.  


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Tim Lovitt - Associate Director of Digital Intelligence at PwC

What do you think the current skills and education gaps are in our industry andMediaScope Brains Trust - Skills Shortages - Tim Lovitt PWC how are they impacting on your business?


There's not enough awareness of the need to cross-skill. Whether in Media, Marketing or the fresher, more dynamic spaces known as Social and Programmatic, we've people with great talent and almost no ability to connect their niche to broader business problems. If you can't get your story out, your specialty will only ever be a line item, maybe. There's nothing wrong this but if someone can understand and synthesize these areas of specialty, the sky is the limit.


These issues aren't impacting on Consultancies so much as our headcount is large enough that we have range of disciplines and subject matter experts we can work with.


What are you doing about it?


Looking wide and far for talent: one of our data scientists trained in design but found he liked databases and natural language processing. Is this a strange skillset? Absolutely. Is this a valuable skillset? Absolutely.


Our brief to the graduate recruitment team is to find us the people who are Digital at core but you can't pigeon hole them. This brings us the Devs who understand UX, the marketers who can code and the analysts that want to get away from their screens and keyboards. Consultancies run strong grad programs, as do we. Outside of this, we mentor as much as we can, formally and informally. 

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Jon Chadwick - CEO at MaxusMediaScope Brains Trust - Skills Shortages - Jon Chadwick - Maxus

What do you think the current skills and education gaps are in our industry and how are they impacting on your business?

In terms of talent, the two biggest challenges we are facing are ‘knowledge gaps’ and the ongoing ‘brain drain’.

Firstly the knowledge gaps. As the industry continues to evolve and fragment, skill gaps seem to be a constant. There are so many media channels today that having an expert in each area is not a viable option and it is very rare to find people who are experts in online and offline.

At present, a lack of meaningful cross-media measurement creates a skill shortage. Consumers have multi-faceted media consumption, however we lack a universal measurement that threads together ratings, impressions and performance to create the best plan to connect with consumers.

Secondly, the ongoing brain drain. Recruiting, training and retaining talent is akin to pouring water into a bucket with a hole in the bottom. Every year the industry expands by c.2%, the complexity of planning media increases volume of work by 10%, compounded by the fact that 5% of bright young talent leave the industry to travel, start families or for a career change. My arithmetic is fairly basic, however that works out to be a staff/workload deficit of 17% that every agency leadership team needs to manage.

What are you doing about it?

Across Maxus and GroupM we have a comprehensive training programme that requires team members to earn credits that culminate in inspirational training programmes around the world.

The aim of the training is twofold -  

  • 1. Equip our staff with the right skills to evolve with the market, and be ahead of the market
  • 2. Inspire bright young minds to help us crack the universal challenges facing the business.

In terms of the ‘drain’ we have implemented the mGrad programme that is open to all university graduates who want to enter the business, receiving a full paid internship. Simply put, we want to recruit the best and brightest, ensure they know what they are in for, and then let them loose on this super exciting industry.

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Chris Brinkworth - Regional Director APAC at EnsightenMediaScope Brains Trust - Skills Shortages - Chris Brinkworth - Ensighten

I don’t want to be the only doomsayer here, but it’s not just AUNZ.  It’s a global problem. There is most definitely an alarmingly distinct (and rapidly growing) gap between the “have” and “have not’s” when it comes to the “workforce’s” ability to keep up with what “consumers” are expecting from ‘everything’, (not just media).   The USA created ‘” for this reason to keep ‘America’ competitive as a business. 

Think of it like Taxis vs Uber. Blockbuster vs Netflix, and AirBNB vs Hotels.  Examples of industry transformation that we are experiencing touch data ownership, product development, logistics, dynamic in-store pricing and much (much) more.  Publicis’ acquisition of Sapient and others is a good example of ‘buying’ a way to leapfrog this skillset shortage.


From our side, the Ensighten “Open Marketing” platform touches ‘every part’ of this technology driven ecosystem, globally across Fortune 500 companies. This means we can easily see what is working/ not, what hybrid tools and models are needed/redundant and where smart businesses are heading and being successful.   


However, the challenge we faced here initially in AU is that that there was a lower “CXO” level understanding of the significant value that such platforms can bring (than there is in EU or USA). EG: If no-one has shown a leader how the dots connect between systems that automate buying/experiences/products  - they will never be able to draw a clear picture of what is happening now and subsequently how to navigate near and future changes that customers demand of their business.  

Further, if someone in the business does understand how to connect these “automated dots" … but they do not have someone sitting next to them to bounce ideas off of, they will simply leave and take their/your skills with them. (Just look at the uptick of boutique agencies focused on “data activation”, “conversion rate optimization”, “data visualization” “programmatic buying” to see where the majority of the talent is flowing in this regard. In our local Australian market, Will Scully-Power recently launched as a cracking example of this. 

So – how to fix it?    


I’ve seen a trend in the various countries I’ve worked in:

  • i) Very successful people who have moved around businesses/roles, actively networked outside of the office, earned experience at different levels and want to work with likeminded people.
  • Or 
  • ii) Complacent and apathetic folks sitting stagnant in roles for 4 to 5 years with their heads buried in the sand hoping that AGENCIES and more tools will handle the challenges (while wrongly paying great agencies less & less money to do so btw!), rather than acquiring the skills themselves and training up people around them. 

Some ideas to consider:

  • Decentralise sitting people in different roles to get them out of their normal day-to-day thinking will result in not only in retaining talent but will cultivate new ideas and collaboration. (Think a mini TedX within your business).
  • Start paying agencies more money to learn and implement additional tools (instead of throwing tools at them and expecting them to use them for the same fee): You will get significantly better results.
  • Require your procurement team to negotiate training/on-site days with your vendors as part of each deal. Ensighten have flown talent out to train and certify 16 folks in Australia.

End point: if businesses want positive outcomes, they need to ensure a stronger alignment on meeting people outside of their normal roles and also pay agencies (or staff) based on commercial business success, because success follows experience around.   After all, if a business is hugely experienced and successful (and profitable), they should have no fear in rewarding their agency roster, vendors or staff handsomely too!


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Further Resources

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