What do clients, agencies and the industry need to do to address gaps in digital marketing skills? According to IPA Director General Paul Bainsfair, AMV BBDO Group Chairman and Group CEO Cilla Snowball and Omnicom Media Group's EMEA President of Global Accounts Peter Magnani, the way forward is a collaborative, cooperative approach.

October 2015

The Talent Revolution Survey results offer a starting point for boosting digital know-how across the industry. Here's what three leading marketing minds say needs to happen next.

A closer look at the current state of play

When the results from the Talent Revolution Survey came back, less than a third of clients agreed that their agencies were at the cutting edge of digital marketing. For the marketing industry, this could be worrying news, but the IPA's Paul Bainsfair believes it's worth drilling down a bit further. "When you think about it, this is an area of such remarkable and constant change," he says. "I think perhaps that it doesn't so much suggest that the agencies don't know enough, but perhaps that we all don't know everything we need to know."

AMV BBDO's Cilla Snowball notes that clients aren't necessarily marking agencies down further than they're marking themselves. "There is a capability issue here, and there's definitely a confidence issue. I think it would be a very aggressive, confident person who would say, 'Yes, our organisation is at the cutting edge.' In managing this urgent imperative to build capability and this desperate feeling that we're not moving fast enough, I don't know if we'll ever be able to truly land in a situation where we say, 'There — we've cracked it.'"

Manage competition, foster collaboration

Developing talent quickly depends on cooperation across all areas of the industry. "This will come from agency/client collaboration and an honest admission of what we know and don't know," Cilla explains. "And it will come from fantastic work. Ultimately, that's what we're here for — to come up with imaginative solutions for our clients that embrace the best opportunities."

While management consultancies add another layer of expertise in this fast-paced climate, Omnicom Media Group's Peter Magnani urges clients to ensure a climate of cooperation among external resources. "We embrace these specialists, but I think what works well is when the client takes real operational responsibility for those relationships."

To put it another way, it seems that tackling the sizeable goal of improving digital skills means everyone is better off working together rather than against one another. "I think ultimately, if you put collaboration at the heart you won't go far wrong," Cilla says. "If you introduce a competitive element, then fear creeps in. We've got to embrace specialists to come up with solutions and bring new skills to the table. If we've got strong creative ideas, we should be developing those ideas in the most interesting, current and relevant way. Strong, multi-faceted, multi-talented teams drive innovative solutions, so I think we should take competition out of it and seek these creative opportunities."

Digital is everywhere, so get stuck in

In talking about the gaps in digital marketing skills, Paul offers a word of caution. "There has been a tendency to sort of stuff digital into its own box, and that's not what it's about. We are in a digital world. One of my favourite quotes is from Nicolas Negroponte, who said in the 1990s, 'In the future, we will notice digital by its absence, not by its presence.' We've arrived at that point."

So if marketing skills and digital skills are really one and the same, whose responsibility is it to make sure the industry is keeping up? According to Peter, we can all be a part of elevating the digital knowledge base in marketing. "Our observation is that self-starters are educating themselves, because it is so easy to educate yourself nowadays. In terms of building clients' trust, we are increasingly having open-access learning programmes, where clients and our own organisation learn together, along with partner agencies as well."

Cilla agrees that it's everyone's responsibility not only to educate, but also to show evidence. "We've got to just keep showing and sharing lots of examples of great digital marketing. It's not like we as agencies should stand on our high horse and 'educate' clients; we're all educating each other. For agencies, this isn't optional. This is an imperative, this is growth, this is sustainability."