Opinion: Is there a risk of another skills gap emerging in the marketing sector?

Following cutbacks to graduate recruitment and training programmes at many organisations, the industry is likely to be facing a worrying shortage of high-calibre marketing practitioners.


Roy Hoolahan, Managing director, Ball & Hoolahan

It may seem that there is a new skills gap as the economy picks up, but there has been a chronic shortage of experienced marketing talent for the past decade. Even in the recession, companies experienced shortages as they held out for specific marketing skills.

On the positive side, skills have been in shortage because marketing has been embraced and accepted in sectors far beyond FMCG brand/advertising roles. New technologies have created much-sought-after specialist skills such as ecommerce, online CRM, SEO/PPC and acquisition/retention.

On the negative side, two recessions have led companies to make marketing less attractive to high-calibre graduates by reducing recruitment, slowing career progression, freezing salaries, cutting budgets, downsizing and reducing the importance of marketing.

Fundamental solutions include raising pay scales, investing in training/graduate programmes and more flexible recruitment that looks at transferable skills and potential, rather than proven experience.


Lisa Thomas, Chief executive, M&C Saatchi Group

As everyone in the sector knows, there is a fierce scramble over the best talent right now. The UK may have emerged from its recessionary shackles, but there are still fewer jobs around and, in particular, less opportunities for young stars hoping to break into adland.

It's understandable - training and nurturing new recruits requires vast investments of time and money: something currently in short supply.

But we need to remember that people are our business. And while we won't ever be able to offer them City-style bonuses, we can produce fun and rewarding environments that allow motivated, creative people to flourish.

We're recruiting eight graduates this year, and giving each of them a taste of all disciplines across the group. It's an investment, but one that will produce indispensable, multi-skilled talent.

Although tough decisions do need to be made, stopping investment in recruitment and training shouldn't be one of them. Otherwise, we run the risk of affecting not just individual agencies, but the industry as a whole.


Will Arnold-Baker, Managing director, Publicis

2011's a funny time to be in marketing. Arguably it's a funny time to be in anything. Although those in the public sector will rightly point out that it's better to be in something than not.

On one side of the coin lies recession and cuts. On the other lies a permanent and seismic shift in the marketing order, with marketers and agencies increasingly embracing avenues of communication that would have been alien only a few years ago. In the past year, Publicis has created websites, apps, a fun-fair and social media campaigns, as well as one or two traditional ads.

We need a constant pipeline of smart young thinkers. ADcademy, our summer school grad-scheme, is the engine for this. Every year, I am surprised and delighted by the calibre of the people we hire.

This pipeline circumvents any potential skills gap. Our grads educate us as much as the reverse. As education costs bite, however, we'll have to rethink the term 'grads' and value life experience as much as qualifications.


Mhairi McEwan, Managing director, Brand Learning

The skills gap has been brought into sharper focus now that chief executives are under great pressure to drive growth and increase shareholder returns.

Customer-demand-led growth is where companies and marketers must focus, but marketers face a cocktail of new rules, tougher demands, tighter deadlines, more complex organisations, less money and savvier, empowered customers. Digital technology has revolutionised the complexity of marketing, and global scale makes it harder to spot and exploit opportunities.

As a result, companies are spending more on insight, planning, innovation, brand positioning, communications and digital marketing. A digital strategy is the most challenging of all, since technological change is outpacing the ability of even experienced marketers.

Best practices need to be captured quickly so that marketers can improve their ways of working to embrace the tougher challenges ahead.


The Marketing Society is the most influential network of senior marketers dedicated to inspiring bolder marketing leadership.


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