By Allie Shaffer
It's not easy to find candidates for advertising, media, and marketing roles that have all the desired skills.
In fact, according to a recent report from staffing firm Robert Half, 86 percent of marketing and advertising industry leaders report having a difficult time finding skilled candidates for professional roles.
Getting the right talent is more important than ever. Finding new hires with well-rounded skills is critical.
With the class of 2020 entering the workforce, unleashing some 1.3 million students into the professional world, brands and agencies need to consider their approaches to hiring with capability building in mind. Uncertainty in the economy and tighter budgets mean marketers must make sure any talent hired is effectively skilled. Agencies and brands that find themselves in the position to hire can afford to be discerning, but that doesn't mean all the skills they desire in recent grads will be available.
The speed at which this industry moves today makes it nearly impossible for traditional university programs to keep up with industry trends. At the same time, it's that exact up-to-the-minute knowledge that brands and agencies are looking for in their hires.
The Skills Gaps
According to the research by Robert Half, the marketing positions most in demand in 2019 included digital marketing managers, digital strategists, copywriters, content strategists, SEO and SEM specialists, marketing analytics managers, front-end web developers, and UI/UX designers. This list represents a mix of creative and data-centric positions. A recent report in Digital Journal revealed that 43 percent of executives found it difficult to find talent with the necessary skills to create and produce creative content, a need that continues to grow in the advertising industry.
And of course, there are the technical skills. According to a 2019 report produced by The Economist Group and the Digital Marketing Institute, roughly three out of four marketing executives believe that marketing organizations are facing a talent shortage because of a lack of digital skills.
Corrinne Casagrande, SVP of strategy and digital at Broadbeam Media, seeks hard skills when hiring recent grads. What she's looking for in particular: "a real understanding of statistics and statistical thinking and then practical skills, like being able to code R and other data programs."
And skills in high-tech areas like artificial intelligence (AI) are growing in demand but only widening the skills gap since young, aspiring marketers don't typically learn these skills in school.
Some universities do have world-class degrees in tech-heavy topics like AI and machine learning — schools like Carnegie Mellon, MIT, and Stanford top the list, as noted in GeekWire. But the problem isn't that students in general don't have access to data-driven courses. The problem is that while the marketing industry is increasingly dependent on data and technology, the students choosing technical degrees — those who tend to be mathematically minded — are largely not attracted to advertising, media, or marketing.
A Left-Brain, Right-Brain Dilemma
Jay Waters, an instructor at the University of Alabama's advertising and PR department, and who has 25 years of experience in the advertising industry, gives students a math quiz every day in his media planning class. "If you make media planning just about the math, you miss the point," he tells his students. "On the other hand, if you don't know the math, you can never get to do the work you need to do."
Every year, he says, at least one student tells him the same line: "I went into advertising so I wouldn't have to do math." His response, and the growing expectation of the industry, is that advertising professionals can't succeed without at least a basic understanding of the data science necessary to make important business decisions.
Still, even those with the left-brain skills of math and data analytics may not always have the communication skills other marketers have. During his time working in the ad industry, Waters notes he sat through many meetings with analytical thinkers who presented on topics that made little sense from a brand or marketing standpoint. "A lot of businesses have made poor decisions based on analytics, because the people doing analytics didn't have an understanding of the discipline," he says.
According to Waters, the most important task of marketers today, when it comes to upskilling young employees especially, is to help them become well rounded. "We've got to attract people who are both-brained — left- and right-brained — and who love telling stories through analytics," he says.
Teaching the Ecosystem
Being well rounded isn't just about knowing the numbers. It's about knowing the industry.
Casagrande believes that there's another gap involving knowledge of the industry itself and understanding the ad tech players. "[Recent grads] need to understand the Lumascape almost immediately because they're the ones dealing in the details," she says of new hires filling in entry-level positions. "They all of a sudden have to be experts in minutiae, and if they don't understand the broader context in which this minutiae is placed, they're going to miss things."
If understanding the ecosystem is key, so is understanding the lingo. The language of advertising is entrenched within agencies, which is why key terms and concepts often go unexplained to new hires. Casagrande points out that "there is a lot of assumptive knowledge" in the industry. Those who are new to the field may not understand what's being asked of them, and they have no way of understanding unless their managers explain it; Casagrande says that's something that doesn't happen often.
This gap in comprehension of basic jargon means important nuances get missed at the lower levels, which can lead to serious inefficiencies. As a solution, she says, "There needs to be a resource for them to go and look [those concepts] up and find out what their bosses are talking about."
Beyond giving their new hires access to industry-specific skills and concepts, brands and agencies can help close the gap by providing supplementary, skills-based curriculum to new hires. Instead of hoping for perfect candidates who are both-brained, firms can ensure that every hire is adequately skilled by giving them access to affordable, on-demand industry learning. Industry veterans have an opportunity here to share their skills and knowledge with young advertising professionals.
Instead of relying on universities to close the knowledge gap, the industry needs to rely on itself to give aspiring advertisers the skills they need to excel.
About Author: Allie Shaffer is the managing director at The Ad Learning Exchange, a partner in the ANA Thought Leadership Program.