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The most difficult agency talents to cultivate

The most difficult agency talents to cultivate Thomas Moyer

A few years back, the Online Marketing Institute produced a study titled "State of the digital marketing talent," which found talent gaps in work functions within digital marketing. The study was centered around category knowledge such as those with mobile, SEO, analytics, social, and so forth. While I agree that there is a knowledge gap, there are underlying "talents" that are equally (if not more) important for agencies to cultivate. For example, teaching someone the fundamentals of search, display, or mobile advertising can be fairly straightforward, but it can be exponentially harder (sometimes impossible) to develop higher level and strategic skills around them.

These traits are not the easiest to find, nor to cultivate, but they can make all the difference in the world from an internal (agency) and external (client) perspective. While many of these traits don't always come through during the HR or interview process, they certainly become apparent as that person starts working. Here are three traits that tend to be the most critical.

Understand the difference between observations and insights

Whether someone is a media planner, buyer, analyst, or strategist, they will undoubtedly be asked to come up with media recommendations, reporting, campaign wrap-ups, research projects, and other "deliverables" for their clients. In those deliverables, senior-level clients tend to look for a hefty mix of campaign observations and, more importantly, thoughtful insights. Far too often, junior-level planners (and some who have progressed higher) consider observations and insights as the same thing (which they are not). In case there is confusion, here is a simple example of the difference.

  • Observation: "On week 4, the click-to-conversion rate dropped by 40 percent."

  • Insight: "The click-to-conversion rate dropped 40 percent on week 4, due to that week's inclusion of paid mobile media, which drove a high abandonment rate on the landing page not optimized for mobile."

Experienced advertising professionals approach insights as the meaningful extension of an observation to answer the "why" of that observation. Why did the campaign performance improve? What specific publisher optimizations moved the needle? Were there seasonal events that influenced a particular initiative? Nothing is worse than getting a campaign wrap-up deck that is full of observations and no insights, as it generally means that either a more senior supervisor or director needs to critique (or likely rework), or the client ends up getting a subpar deck.

The skill of cultivating insights (or at least enforcing their inclusion) has been hit-or-miss in my experience with those in the media world. While even smart folks can struggle with tangible insights, it is important to be diligent at improving this, as your client will greatly appreciate it.

The ability to see beyond their job title

Ad agencies tend to have a high fragmentation of job functions that span quite a few jobs. Folks in media can be divided between search and display, account management can be separated from media, and analysts tend to exist as a separate function as well. With all of these job functions, it is really easy for people to focus on their discrete task without realizing how their contribution affects the immediate team as well as the greater organization.

For example, a digital assistant media planner tends to pull a lot of reports and other research as part of their job. While an assistant media planner is playing a near entry-level role, the data they provide is critical to client deliverables sent by digital supervisors or directors.

Another example would be those who work in system or tools departments. Folks in those functions generally are in charge of several toolsets, especially media planning and financial tools (ie. Donovan). While it is their job to confirm that a process is followed, any delays or lack of communication can delay the launch of paid media. Nothing is worse than having an issue either on the media or tools side and not having a resolution as you near a campaign launch.

Every agency function is key to the success of an account, and it is imperative for each member to think about how their actions affect other groups. Whether it is a creative team handing off assets to media, or an account director setting client expectations, every action trickles down. In any role, that person is an extension of the agency and needs to think about how their actions affect job functions downstream, as those actions could directly impact the end product, the tactical approach, the sales presentation, and how the client views the agency. As such, good agency leadership needs to foster interdepartmental communication and educational session that help different departments understand how they impact the business. If steps like this are not done, it become much harder to foster a culture of cross-department collaboration and efficiency.

Take pride in their work

The idea that some employees "don't care" may be stretch, but there are those who simply view their day-to-day tasks as something to be completed and forgot about instead of taking a personal interest in the details of a deliverable. For example, let's say an ad campaign is in full swing and the client is asking for reporting. At this point, you can A) develop something insightful that includes research, publisher feedback, and visual, or B) simply pull a report from your ad server that lets the client know we are in good shape.

In some instances, an update is all a client needs, but more often than not, they are looking for more than just a canned report (that's why they hired an agency). Generally speaking, the client contact a report is delivered to is not the only person that will see it. PowerPoint decks get passed around all the time, and sometimes only portions of the deck. This means that every report or deliverable needs to be "leveled up" with the assumption that senior-level marketers are going to want insights as to what is happening. It also means that each slide needs to be able to stand alone and be thorough in its explanation. If agency folks are only doing the minimum, client deliverables may end up being satisfactory for some client contacts, but subpar for those at more senior levels who can impact the health of the business.

The best people to work with are those that pay attention to detail, make sure campaign execution goes off without a hitch, and those that ensure we are giving the client what they really need. Those that actually take pride in what they do tend to live and breathe their job to continuously improve and deliver better results. Those that simply check out or are not fully engaged in the work tend to put more pressure on the folks they work with to pick up the slack -- or worse, push down the quality of work. In either scenario, an agency needs to find, cultivate, and promote those that take pride in their work and influence that ethos across the organization.

Thomas Moyer is media supervisor at the Dentsu Aegis Network part of Vizeum.

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