Is the Online Agency World Heading For A Staffing Crisis?
Finding and retaining online media talent is becoming a major challenge. What is now a staffing shortage could become a full-on crisis in the near future if we don't begin to increase the number of qualified candidates who are coming to our business. Turnover is also a concern--at all job levels.
The topic has even been covered in the popular press. A recent Business Week article, "Online Ad Jobs Go Begging," describes the plight of online agencies and vendors alike. The agencies interviewed reported that their current openings represented about 5 to 19 percent of their total staff. Most of these positions were newly created to handle increased workflow. That kind of shortage sounds very dangerous to me, in a world where there are at least twice as many articles talking about the increased spending in our business.
This environment creates increased competition among agencies for the few qualified candidates out there. Candidates sell themselves to the highest bidder, so even when an agency finds a new employee, it has to pay through the nose--and this creates a new set of expectations in the marketplace of what a position is worth. Generating revenue is still a challenge in this business, and smaller agencies may face fiscal problems just to keep up with compensation models that are constantly evolving.
Recruiters are in a frenzy, reaching out over and over to the currently employed try to fill openings. Sometimes the allure of the new job is too great--and then agencies are hit with the loss of staffers crucial to keep their clients happy and their businesses running. Combine this trend with normal attrition and turnover, and it creates a very stressful environment for agencies.
To me, some of the problem starts with the lack of awareness of our industry within the world of academia. Marketing and communications curricula rarely contain an in-depth study of the online advertising world, so graduates have little to no understanding of our business. That makes it difficult to get grads excited about coming into the online arena. Hopefully, the digital nature of their personal media usage will draw them in greater numbers.
What can we do to fight this trend? Where can we find more folks to hire?
Agencies are staring to look outside of the current marketing-defined experience to find people who are smart and motivated and who can be taught the intricacies of online advertising. A friend of mind once said that advertising was a great business for folks with an undefined skill set. It may sound insulting to some--but if you open your mind, what it really means is that with the business changing so fast, the best candidate profile may not even exist yet.
Do your part to get young people exited about online. The New York online advertising club 212 (where I'm treasurer) has held career fairs over the past couple of years that have been very successful at helping graduates and candidates connect with online organizations that need help. I've even tried to recruit waiters, the folks who help me at the Gap, and sometimes people on the street to see if they'd be interested in a career in online advertising. I love my job, and I just want to spread the joy!
This fall, when the work world gets into full gear again, will we be ready? Or I am just overreacting? Please let me know what you think.