Can an agency ever compete against a tech giant for digital talent?

Can an agency ever compete against a tech giant for digital talent?

Today, most businesses understand that long-term success means standing out, speaking up, and being heard. In the last decade, marketing and brand strategy has boomed, as more businesses enter the marketplace. At the same time, technology has enabled marketers to streamline processes, tap into customer needs, and deliver better customer experiences. But while 96% of marketing leaders in the UK believe digital marketing is important for organisational success, 70% are concerned by a digital skills shortage in the industry. So, how can agencies compete for these high-demand digital skills, especially when tech giants are direct competitors?

The significance of the digital customer experience

Customers today expect continuous, consistent, and customised brand engagement. The market is saturated, so standing out demands ever-greater creativity and almost constant activity. According to Accenture, 87% of organisations believe that traditional experiences are no longer enough to satisfy customers.

Technology offers infinite possibilities for marketing to meet these customer needs. Marketers use data and analytics skills to personalise customer journeys, identify consumer trends, and gather audience insight. They speed up processes and enhance brand reach with AI and automation. And they use IoT, voice, digital assistants, and extended reality (VR, AR, and MR) to create intuitive, memorable customer experiences.

But these digital skills are not widely available. According to a Perpetual Evolution survey, 74% of respondents believe that marketing faces a critical talent shortage for digital skills needed to meet ongoing customer demands. And a separate study by the Digital Marketing Institute found that the greatest anticipated challenges in 2020 for executive and senior marketers are keeping up with the pace of technological change (54%); creating engaging digital marketing to contend with noise from other brands (49%); and recruiting the right talent (53%).

To make matters worse, these skills - data and analytics, digital marketing, AI and ML, UX/UI, IoT, product, and so on - are all in-demand with tech businesses that are building digital empires based on customer experience. What’s more, these companies are also a beacon for digital talent; with sparkling company cultures, world-class reputations, and an appetite for big budget technology innovation.

These skills are also becoming more popular in-house across all industries, as businesses see both the value and the cost-saving potential of a dedicated, “always on”, digital marketing team. As companies take on more digital responsibilities in-house, they are less willing to pay for what they don’t need from an external agency. Inevitably, this is squeezing the bottom line for agencies – making offering salaries to attract top talent even harder.

Competing with tech giants

Part of the challenge of hiring in tech is that hard-to-fill digital skills are constantly evolving, so companies are forced to chase new digital skills as they emerge. And inevitably, the companies at the forefront of this change (and, therefore, the most likely to adapt to skills needs ahead of demand) are tech businesses.

So, agencies will need to be sharp when it comes to hiring digital talent. Rather than focusing on traditional skills and agency marketing backgrounds, agencies should look for raw tech skills that can be trained. Likewise, agencies should beware of ‘unicorn’ searches for talent, where the latest skills are only shared by a few, very in-demand, specialists. Core tech skills, adaptability, and creativity are more important to stay ahead of the digital curve.

Upskilling and cross-skilling employees can also be a great way to attract up-and-coming talent, keen to learn, and use new digital skills across different projects. 83% of marketers recognise their organisation needs to invest more in staff training and development, and with the growth of in-house marketing teams pressurising agencies to consolidate teams and flex across clients, this could prove a scalable, cost-effective, and future-proof way of attracting talent – instead of going head-to-head with tech companies for the handful of tech unicorns.

Of course, none of this is to say that the talent isn’t out there. But meeting the lucrative pay scales of tech giants will mean rethinking strategy. Agencies may play different hands to attract talent, such as offering flexible and remote working, training opportunities, versatile workloads, creative projects, and compelling benefits packages.

The value of branding shouldn’t be underestimated either. Tech giants have a loyal brand following which frequently makes them an ‘employer of choice’. But savvy marketing agencies can achieve that status too. Being known as a market leader will attract digital talent, irrespective of industry.

The skill-scarce nature of this market also makes it important to partner with tech experts like Onezeero when recruiting. Our consultants are vertically aligned, so as well as being experts in digital marketing, we’re also specialists in specific technology clusters. We blend time-tested networks with the latest sourcing tools - including AI and machine learning - to reach candidates that others can’t. And crucially, we understand what drives digital talent and how to land a brand message that resonates.

The future is specialism

But what does all of this say about the future of marketing and communications agencies? Let’s not forget that the talent supply to agency marketing is also being undercut by the growth of in-house marketing teams.

Well, the future could see agency marketing fulfilling a vital niche for both tech giants and in-house marketers by taking a specialist stance. As digital consulting and research firms, agencies could take on a new position as ‘thought leaders’ and fixers for in-house marketing challenges – with creative skills not typically found in internal marketing teams – and subject matter experts on emerging digital marketing trends for tech companies.

Agencies could then attract specialist and niche digital and marketing skills that ‘level up’ on traditional marketing delivery, pooling talent from in-house teams. Meanwhile offering diverse, challenging, and cutting-edge projects to candidates will be a compelling prospect, even while competing against tech giants.

Ready to find digital talent and become the go-to agency for digital and marketing expertise? Please get in touch with me at for a conversation about how to get started.

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