With digital workshops and tech entrepreneurs in every local coffee shop, the digital space is now the hottest topic in the North of England. There is long-standing belief in the industry that the brightest and best will always gravitate towards London - which can sometimes be true - but the North West and East as two separate regions are now boasting their own brand pride, agency powerhouses and gravitational pull for digital talent and we are definitely experiencing a “shift” within in the UK in recent years.
We asked Profiles Creative Divisional Lead, Warren Gibson, for his personal insights on finding digital talent in The North:
What challenges are there when recruiting for digital talent?
The biggest difficulty I encounter is that some really talented people are not as active in the wider market or as accessible as would typically be the case in London. In fact, many tend to operate within their own private network that formed via word of mouth. However, when you grab a coffee with local creatives and check out a portfolio you realise the talent in the area is very strong.
So how does the industry tackle this challenge?
Talent is being unlocked everyday in the North but it needs more coverage and it needs a wider market. Freelancers are happy to help each other out and recommend each other - which is a great trait for the industry to boast - and something not every region I have ever worked in can say. But the most important factor in making talent more accessible for hiring managers and brands is the job package they offer these talented individuals, their quality of work needs to be valued. Ethos in studios are a big part of the “work for us” pitch but what they offer past that is what I, and many other recruiters, find difficult to attract great talent.
How does the demand differ between London and the North? Would you say the demand is higher, on par or below in comparison?
The demand is obviously on a different scale to London, however, digital agencies in the North of England are thriving and they are now hugely dependent on attracting (and retaining) essential skill-sets to continue to grow as they operate in a highly competitive space. The North has a vast amount of retail and eCommerce brands which encourages a market of versatile talent. Although the eCommerce “boom” has been and gone, eCommerce platforms are growing more and more everyday and the brands that ride off the back of this wave are enjoying great success.
What are companies looking for from their digital candidates?
Versatility. It’s the ability to operate across multiple platforms and offer multiple skill sets within digital. Specific roles are now being carved out in studios to deal with different parts of the eCommerce wheel. Positions and responsibilities that simply don’t exist in London where they would often employ two or three specialists to overlook these area. These are typically for retail giants that need to assign people to specific campaigns and platforms such as web banner and email specific digital artworkers or designers with strong animation skills for social assets, animated banners, GIFs etc. but they are NOT classed as Motion Graphics Designers. These assigned roles are creating more jobs in these studios which is fantastic for the industry.
As a recruiter what advice would you give to your digital candidates?
Experiment, be open to the possibility of creating your own briefs in your spare time to elevate your portfolio. If you are struggling to pick up the sexy briefs you want then take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Does your portfolio warrant these jobs? Is your quality not being displayed and demonstrated accurately in your current work due to guideline constraints, lack of creativity from the client etc? You must keep your work fresh and exciting. Show off your commercial awareness. It’s great to be creative and let your juices flow, but ultimately you will be working for studios that are driven by business so the work you show, (experimental or commissioned) needs to show this commercial awareness. A portfolio like this will always trump a portfolio that is full of highly creative and highly impressive work that isn’t commercial or business relevant.
How would you manage clients expectations?
I am open and honest with them from the very beginning. Managing expectations is all about looking at the deliverables and how well you are able to provide great service. It’s a consultative process we go through when helping someone recruit for their team and we are effectively an extension of their brand. When it comes to digital talent on the creative side of things, it’s important they buy in to your eye for strong work and commercial capabilities. Portfolio reviews are always important for the client of course, but it’s also just as important that as a recruiter I understand their standards and expectations when it comes to someone’s work.
How is The North developing it’s talent, what do you think should be done?
The North’s talent pool is increasing in size and quality (as projected over the next 5-10 years). From a client point of view, their brands need to keep improving, the constant desire to produce higher quality work needs to drive everyone and the ability to diversify without compromising quality is key. Comparatively paid digital apprenticeships with the cost of living (as well as basic salaries for other employees), clear job pathways, accessibility for the not so fortunate and innovation. The youth of every generation are often much maligned by their predecessors and the current generation of millennials are no different. I have worked with some highly ambitious and talented junior’s and let us not forget that students preparing to sit exams are the creative minds that will shape this industry for future generations and we need to support them.