The skills today’s digital agency leaders are looking for

Over the last few months, it seems like the PR job market has opened up a bit. I say that anecdotally–I have no hard numbers. I’ve just heard about a lot more openings lately–especially on the agency side (just check Ryan May’s blog locally for proof).

But, I also continue to hear that companies and agencies are struggling to find certain candidates. Certain skill sets. Certain mixtures of talent.

As many of you know, I have a certain passion for helping people connect with mentors and colleagues and assisting people with the job search process (been helping a number of friends this week, in fact). I founded HAPPO with my friend Valerie Simon earlier this year for that exact reason (look for more information about upcoming HAPPO events very soon!). And I see the same thing these agencies do–holes in the talent pool.

So, I thought it would be interesting to ask the agency folks that are charged with recruiting new talent and making hiring decisions about the digital skills they have a tough time finding in the marketplace–and what they’re doing to overcome those challenges.

I polled a cross-section of agency owners, principals and recruiters from big, international agencies to smaller, more regional shops. Here’s what they had to say:

* Gini Dietrich, president-Arment Dietrich. “I don’t think it’s a digital skill that employees/candidates are missing. You can always find someone who has strengths where other have weaknesses. What we have the hardest time finding is someone who can integrate digital tactics with traditional tools and understand how to relate the work back to both strategy and business growth. Communication professionals, by trade, are very tactical people and don’t typically understand how a business makes money. We always have to teach that because we’ve yet been able to find a person who can integrate the tools and show a return-on-investment. We spend A LOT of time during our staff meetings every week talking about how each client’s business makes money and whether or not the work we’re doing is affecting their sales. So we’re overcoming it by education, education, education.”

* Beth Ward, senior vice president, partner and regional recruiter-Fleishman Hillard. “My biggest challenge with finding digital recruits is uncovering someone who has implemented a social campaign producing quantifiable results tied to a business objective or sale. It has always been hard to measure the business impact of earned media communications.  With the explosion of analytics, tracking, listening platforms and other measurement services it is easy to track but hard to demonstrate the direct effect. I really look for the applicants who can explain their strategy, describe program executions and defend their results.”

* B.L. Ochman, Managing Director of Emerging Media, Proof Integrated Communications. “The biggest challenge in digital hiring is finding people who have both case studies and a following in social media channels. While there is no shortage of people claiming to be social media experts, gurus and ninjas, there is an extreme dearth of people with actual client experience. People who talk the talk are a dime a dozen. However, saying that you can counsel clients on emerging media because you observe it online is like saying you are an Olympic swimmer because you watch swim meets on TV.”

* Todd Defren, principal-SHIFT Communications. “For my part, the focus lately has been on creative strategists (i.e., multichannel mindset) and SEO expertise. It can be hard to find someone who not only has the right philosophies but also is willing to work hard.  Interestingly, where I thought it might feel like a step down for a creative to work for a PR agency (vs. a hot interactive shop), I have found the opposite: the folks I’ve been most impressed with seem *keen* to work with PR; they see that our relationship-centric approach has merit beyond “just another campaign” and they feel challenged by that need to drive continuous value to community members and media.”

* John Schneider, Group Director-Digital and Social Strategy, Beehive PR. “It’s been hardest to get experience working with and a depth of understanding of analytics. And not just website analytics like Google Analytics or Omniture, but how to use data to support decisions and to inform directions, tactics and strategies across a range of efforts including social media broadly and certain platforms specifically. Skills in finding, filtering and fostering understanding around the value/application of this information is increasingly priority. It needs to be distributed across our organization, and it’s a must-have with new team members. We’re surrounded by the tools, and many of them are free. Yet, very few people take the time to arm and prepare themselves with this critical component of our work.

To work around this challenge, we’re using a consistent suite of tools that our team can quickly and consistently deepen their expertise in and looking at our process and workflows both critically and proactively. Our goals are to systematize some of the more time-intensive exercises and develop a curriculum to support quick onboarding of new team members. Additionally, we look for partners in the analytics and measurement space who partner with us not only to train new team members, but in an ongoing way with our current team to ensure we’re keeping our skills and knowledge sharp.”

What about you? If you’re an agency leader or if you’re on the corporate side and you’re charged with uncovering digital talent, what are you having a hard time finding–and how are you taking on that challenge?

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8 comments on “The skills today’s digital agency leaders are looking for

  1. Anonymous says:

    Love this comment by Gini – “Communication professionals, by trade, are very tactical people and don’t typically understand how a business makes money.” She nails it. As the various business lines begin to merge together, effective professionals need to understand how other departments operate and what those departments see “success” as. We’re so used to “success” meaning our brand was mentioned in X. As great as that is, others could care less.

  2. Gini nails it.

    As for all the talk of candidates needing to bring their own case studies to the table, give me a break. How many companies have scored real wins in the social space so far? A dozen at best. Do you really think a social media mastermind from W+K (The guys behind the Old Spice project), Best Buy or Starbucks is going to send you a resume?

    The flip side of that is the fact that most “case studies” are junk. I keep running into big brand digital and social media directors with boxloads of case studies that sound amazing. Until you start asking questions and digging a little bit. Then you realize it’s all mostly hype. Sure, they know how to spend money on a campaign and get a lot of talk going about it, but when it comes to actually showing business results, it all comes crashing down.

    Read Gini’s answer. She has it right.

  3. WOW! It looks my mom has infiltrated the networks so people comment nice things about me!

    The thing that KILLS me about people talking about their results is they’re changing the impressions and ad equivalencies of old to sentiment and number of conversations. This does not equate business growth, people.

    I don’t know. Maybe you have to run a business or a large division to really understand the differences between P&Ls and balance sheets and revenue vs. cash vs. profits and gross profits vs. net profits. And then take all of that knowledge and figure out how a marketing, advertising, and communication program affects one or all of those things.

    My advice: PR/digital/advertising/creative professionals should take some classes in accounting. Then apply their expertise to the REAL numbers.

    P.S. Where did you find that photo?! It has to be five years old!

  4. Steven says:

    I think you have to pay just as much attention to the statistics, analytics, and click-throughs as you do the case studies. Case studies help businesses get in the mindset of customers by learning their story. All things equal, businesses that understand their clients’ stories will outperform businesses that ignore clients’ stories and merely focus on numbers.

  5. Leah Robl says:

    I have to say that this blog was really beneficial to read at this point in time in my life. I am going to be a senior in college next year so I still have time to gather other skills. Hearing from people who are actually in the market and what they are looking for makes me realize that there is so much more that I need to gain experience with. Far too often do people graduate from school thinking that getting a job will be easy because they received top marks at their school when it is really so much more than that. I already knew that experience, above anything else, is what employers look at. Reading this, it narrows down the different types of experience people are looking for. Thanks!