Smith & Beta survey reveals serious agency gaps in digital readiness

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Smith & Beta, the talent development company that specialises in informing adland employees about all things digital, recently released some rather shocking findings, which were discovered during a survey it conducted of more than 2,000 agency employees, the majority of whom said they are unable to meet the digital demands of their clients. The results are, honestly, rather surprising, as I was under the impression that agencies across the world were doing all they could to adapt to the ever encroaching digital wave that appears to be dominating the industry right now.

Evidently, they still are not doing quite enough, as the findings by Smith & Beta revealed that more than half of those surveyed ranked themselves as “Novice or Below” in mobile advertising strategy, prototyping and measurement, and only a measly 7% believed they are exceeding client expectations in digital. Either adland got very modest all of a sudden, or there agencies truly need to invest more in talent development to compete in the fast moving digital economy.


Smith & Beta Founder, Allison Kent-Smith

The three-year quantitative and qualitative benchmark study, titled (rather grandly) “The State of Advertising Talent Report,” analysed responses from more than 2,000 employees in advertising agencies in the North America, EMEA, APAC and LATAM regions. Smith & Beta specifically cites a lack of core skill sets and outdated organisational habits from the survey results. The company’s analysis identified deficiencies in practice areas such as analytics, social media, and mobile. The survey brought to light several significant findings:

  • Agencies are not prepared: 62% of employee respondents at agencies claim their clients are asking for more advanced digital work from their team, yet more than 43% of employee respondents at agencies feel that they aren't prepared for the future work within their industry.

  • Mobile Advertising Strategy: 55% of respondents describe themselves as novice or below in their mobile-strategy capabilities, while only 15% said they are semi-expert or expert.

  • Data/KPIs Measurement: 50% of total employee respondents are novice or below.

  • Cross-Platform Storytelling: 33% of total employee respondents are novice or below.

  • User Experience: 47% of total employee respondents are novice or below.

  • Prototyping: 65% of total employee respondents are novice or below, while only 17% are semi-expert or expert.

  • 62% of employee respondents at agencies claimed that they talk more than they make.

  • 50% of respondents believe that they are not fast and iterative with their ways of working.

  • Only 7% of agency respondents think they are exceeding client expectations.

Smith & Beta Founder, Allison Kent-Smith, said: “For far too long, agencies have relied on the acquisition of expert talent to deliver digital solutions to clients, but this approach has simply not scaled. Most employees are far behind in skill-sets that are generating the largest revenue opportunity. For some skill-sets, more than 60% of employees rate themselves novice or ‘have no idea’ about that particular practice area. There are agencies that are focused on ensuring their digital capabilities and skill-sets match client demand. A good example is Ogilvy & Mather. They invest in annual educational programming for staff that promotes experimentation, making, and understanding digital trends and technologies. Cultivating a learning culture is critical to sustained innovation in the industry.”


Ogilvy & Mather New York President, Adam Tucker

Responding to this glowing praise on their digital investments, Ogilvy & Mather New York President, Adam Tucker, added: “ Digital must be at the heart of any idea we create. With new technology driving rapidly changing consumer behaviour, continuous digital transformation is imperative. Two years ago we committed to putting every Ogilvy New York agency employee through a 12-week digital education series partnering with smith & beta. As a result, our people are far more digitally fluent and our ideas digitally centric. Now we're moving this training to a client team level and seeing even greater impact.”

You can download the complete report HERE and I do highly recommend it as it's truly a fascinating read, which underlines how the ways of working currently employed by many industries are already outdated.

Benjamin Hiorns is a freelance writer and struggling musician from the dark heart of Kidderminster in the UK.


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