Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Are indies “talent farms” for clients?

By Dean Nagib, UK Commercial Director, MiQ

While the talent shortage in the UK has affected almost every sector and the marketing and advertising industry hasn’t been exempt, as large brands have weighed in on how to maintain the talent pool. Coupled with the fact in-housing is on the rise, in which 83% of marketers were managing their marketing mostly or completely in-house, something has to give.  

At the heart of the shortage are the concerns of smaller independent agencies, which have witnessed talent being lost to clients directly – a trend The Indie Circle, powered by MIQ, has observed. The Indie Circle is a collective of over 20 UK independent agencies coming together to shape the future of digital advertising and provide a collective, powerful voice to represent the independent agency perspective.

Amid the growing migration from agency to in-house advertising teams, the market has often overlooked the essential role that agencies fill. Agencies typically own the fundamental role of finding, nurturing, and growing entry-level talent across all aspects of the advertising business.

Is the shift of these responsibilities to in-house brand teams affecting the pool of top advertising talent? As such, is this having a knock-on effect for both in-house and agency teams to fill open roles with candidates who have the right skill sets?

To gain a deeper understanding of finding and maintaining talent within marketing and advertising from the indie perspective, who better to ask than the indies themselves. As such, we spoke with agencies across MiQ’s Indie Circle to find out the lay of the land. The group provides a platform for Indies to share ideas and collaborate, as well as unite (even when they might be competitors in the marketplace) to have a collective and louder voice in the industry. Here’s what they said.

Before we tackle the skills gap, what are the benefits of working for an indie?

Gareth Owen, Group Managing Director and Co-Founder, TIPi Group: “There is a big list, but they all boil down to one thing – exposure, this is both comforting and scary which isn’t for everyone. However, if you’re driven and harbour desires of running your own business then you won’t find a better place to learn than an indie.

 “Everything from full financial transparency to big promotions slightly beyond your comfort zone are the norm. It’s no criticism of the large networks but they simply can’t compete with that by definition because of their size – clear progression plans and massive political challenges to decision-making are what will hold you back comparatively, but equally a large network is often a more comforting place to be and learn your craft for some.”

Are agencies/indies talent farms for in-house teams?

Christina Smith, Digital Operations Director, Bountiful Cow: “Potentially, I imagine in-house teams likely find themselves with similar challenges to independents when recruiting talent, which is why looking to agency talent can be desirable. There are benefits to moving in-house, one being gaining a breadth of knowledge and experience in their specialised sector which you can live and breathe.

 “The offset to moving in-house from agency side is restricted access to media owners and new media opportunities this often brings, and the variety agency life offers across multiple sectors, disciplines, and challenges.

“However, it’s not often an agency isn’t sourced by an in-house team, so we shouldn’t always be viewed as a choice between one or the other. We often must be one team regardless of who employs us. That’s why the role of agencies shouldn’t just be about creating great agency talent, but helping our clients recruit fantastic in-house talent to work with and/or upskill, both of which we have supported and will continue to support.”

What are the barriers to maintaining talent?

Carrie Webster, Director of Paid Media, Walk-In Media: “While it is sometimes tough to compete with the monetary benefits provided by in-house roles, there are other ways indies can retain talent. For instance, providing regular training opportunities, either internal or external, structured progression plans, cross-channel exposure and finally, providing the recognition they deserve in a timely and adequate manner.”

How can indies prevent talent from pursuing in-house roles?

Carrie: “Be better at not just explaining but also showing the benefits of working at an indie, or better, at that specific agency. We also need to be looking at it from the other side, what more can we be doing for clients to show them we truly understand their business and showcase the benefits of working with agencies? This will reduce the likelihood for clients to in-house and in turn, reduce the number of in-house roles available.”

Are there any roles and skills which indies are seeking?

Gareth: “Lots of specific ones, I need people to be comfortable in programming and coding, comfortable with data science, and strong at pulling insights from that data. Overall, I look for people that like to search for answers, and to tell stories. It’s that curiosity and human element that will save large swathes of this industry from losing jobs to automation, as you can’t ever leave AI to look after the whole process from start to finish.”

Carrie: “We constantly need good, hungry, fresh people to come into the industry and agency world, especially digital roles, particularly performance digital, social and content. People who are keen to get stuck in and appreciate the value of training and will reward it with loyalty are priceless.”

Christina: “What makes indies great is also what makes them very difficult to recruit for. The biggest challenge is that you can find people who are perfectly capable of buying media, but because they’ve not had the opportunity to plan and buy, or had less exposure to clients, they often don’t understand the ‘why’ behind the approach to what they’re buying.”

Given the direction of the industry, consumer behaviour changing rapidly, as well as growing software capabilities, the demand for specialised skills, will only increase. With the growth of in-house agencies added into the mix, the industry will need to rethink how it finds, trains and recruits the right talent to meet that need.

A middle ground fostering a collaborative approach between indies and in-house is required, to benefit both sides of the same coin. After all, competition in the industry and a desire for quality talent is a good thing, which raises the bar overall. However, it’s vital to ensure the pool is constantly being refilled, bringing new blood into Ad Land and not over-farming talent.