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Future Proofing the Agency With Technology + Talent

  |  July 2, 2012   |  Comments

Inexperienced employees are running digital campaigns. That's a problem, but it can be remedied.

Today's smartest, most progressive agencies recognize the critical role that technology plays in their future. As media trading continues to evolve into more automated and efficient trading models, adopting and leveraging technology that underpins this industry sea change will be a critical success factor and result in increasing competitive advantage. This dynamic is reflected in the investments holding companies are making in trading desks and in implementing robust, synchronized, automated workflows across their businesses to ensure data is more effectively managed. However, even as these investments and changes cascade through agency land, an ever increasing and notable issue relates to talent - the critical and precious asset that makes an agency hum - their people.

Digital media agencies universally seem to struggle with attracting and retaining the right and best talent to service this new tech-led reality, and when they do, to ensure knowledge is sufficiently robust about the evolving technology landscape. There are organizational and training realities that must be addressed to get the agencies' talent tech ready and secure future competitive advantage. Not addressing these head on will impact any agency's ability to deliver great service to their clients, who are, after all, their lifeblood. So, how exactly do we future-proof the agency, when it comes to technology and agency talent?

Telling Trends on Talent

Recently, when addressing workflow process and data systems inside the agency, I referenced research conducted by my firm. Research in which we heard from over 500 agency insiders and conducted over 40 agency systems audits. Through this, we tapped into an incredible level of self-awareness by agency management regarding the talent gap. That same research is worth revisiting as we consider what's going on inside the agency - and potential solutions.

  • 50 percent of staff have two years or less experience in digital media.
  • Roles do not meet expectations: a typical media planner or media agency spends over 70 percent of their time and resources working on a campaign, manually transferring data between different sources, e.g., Excel, PowerPoint, and email - and under 30 percent investigating past performance, analyzing, and optimizing, or presenting strategic thought and market guidance to the client.
  • Headcount is often deployed as a "plaster" to challenges that would be better addressed through integration of systems and standardization of workflow and process.
  • Agencies get paid for and provide value to their clients through their analysis, their insights, and market expertise, yet currently a significant proportion of time is wasted inefficiently manipulating reports and data.
  • This low-value work makes a large part of the life of the average agency employee excruciatingly tedious.

Business Implications of Current State

The business impact of this state is clear. For one, in such an amorphous environment, where the proper talent may not be in-house, properly skilled, or loosely organized - organizational and technical IP is scattered, if not lost, and the ensuing friction through the organization becomes poisonous.

Secondly, a future that depends on technology for success and profitability requires that leadership all the way through to the most junior of roles, understands the critical role and capabilities that the various technologies comprising the agency toolkit are expected to fulfill. This is inconsistent across the agency set.

Technology selection decisions should be made centrally following careful strategic and functional consideration. People with a detailed understanding of the role the solution is supposed to fill and a vested interest in ensuring the correct solutions are selected and implemented are critical to this factor. That is not always the case in the current state, so poor technology decision-making remains an issue in the agency world.

Looking toward the future, comprehension of these solutions needs to trickle through the organization, and careful induction of new employees should form a critical part of the on-boarding process. Not making sure of this now has a very real future cost.

Specifically, as with any operational inefficiency and knowledge gap or lack of understanding on requisite capabilities and tools, there are reduced margins. These poor margins put agencies at great peril in a very price-competitive and rapidly evolving industry. As well, we see these impacts to our business:

  • Limited to zero formal training is provided, as knowledge is not readily accessible. So training is ad hoc and lacks depth - leading to an unsustainable talent picture.
  • Quality of client service declines when the talent picture is not right. We find ourselves ineffective at business-developing client engagements and growing incremental revenue, because our teams are not capable of spotting and mining opportunities, using the tools at their disposal.
  • As these cycles persist, agencies fall back on promotion as a tactic to secure talent that places significant responsibility on relatively inexperienced employees: 80 percent of agency staff are account manager, director, or supervisor level; 47 percent have less than two years experience.
  • Ultimately, too much responsibility is given to inexperienced staff: agencies typically allow over 60 percent of IOs (insertion orders) to be signed by planners and buyers, again a majority of whom have likely been at the agency for fewer than two years.

The Outlook/Requirements for System Adoption

Bringing new talent into the industry has always been a challenge for agencies. Some agencies put a significant emphasis on training, bringing value to the agency and the clients. Developing induction plans where the agencies collaborate with technology vendors to ensure consistent, standardized practices are part of employee training is a key requirement.

Workflow Solutions

Ultimately, of course, to resolve the current state, we must have a combination of things that include reward and recognition, but there are certainly some immediate steps that are well within the agencies' grasp:

  • Invest in training and induction programs that include standardization of the technology and system toolkit employed by the agency, as well as the basic knowledge about how our digital industry runs.
  • Invest in solutions to automate manual processes enabling people to execute the right blend of doing and thinking - with an emphasis on greater thinking.
  • Enable staff to fulfill their potential. Provide exciting career prospects by making a commitment to working in partnership with technology vendors to further develop and improve their systems.
  • Seek solutions to drive operational efficiency that enable a better work/life balance. Reduce long working hours.

For digital agencies in the current technology-heavy environment, a commitment to systems training across the user base, and leadership teams is critical to ensuring technology fulfills its role as an accelerator and enabler of business success. Thoroughly acting on that commitment is how we will future proof the agency.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Julian Baring

Julian Baring is executive vice president, North America, of Facilitate Digital, a publically listed Australian technology firm, providing software and services to digital media agencies and advertisers. These include a best-in class digital campaign workflow solution called Symphony that is revolutionizing the online advertising value-chain, by integrating the media-agency, creative agency, and publishers into one system.

Julian has been with Facilitate Digital since 2007 when he joined to open the London office and build the European business. He was previously a partner at Portobello Ventures, a start-up incubator. Prior to that Julian worked as part of founding team building and launching Platefood, an enterprise software search technology venture that was acquired by FAST in 2006. Julian also was one of the first employees at Vizzavi a pan-European multi-access portal joint-venture between Vodafone and Vivendi. He started his career working at Saatchi & Saatchi and then BBDO in New York and has an MBA from Oxford University.

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