Who knew a revolution could start with a questionnaire? According to the 2014 Digital Knowledge Survey, only 35% of marketers feel truly confident in delivering digital marketing activity. In a seminar entitled ‘Talent Revolution: Are You Moving Fast Enough?’, chaired by The Telegraph’s Emma Barnett, individuals from Google, Unilever, TBWA London and Livity discussed the digital skills gap in the marketing industry.
One of the first questions posed was whether we even need to continue using the word ‘digital’ at all: “We’re moving beyond digital,” says Sam Conniff, Chairman of Livity. “It’s contextual… With young people, you don’t even need to use the word digital.” Google UK’s Mark Howe agreed, describing the lifestyle of digital natives as “entirely online.”
Howe asserts that we need to stop thinking in old norms, and educate from the bottom up. “Young creatives need the confidence to challenge their line managers,” he says, “and line managers need to feel secure enough to learn from digital natives coming into the industry.” It can often feel like CMOs and younger creatives are speaking two different languages, and a fear of being perceived as ignorant can prevent people from seeking help. “Digital is complex, but you don’t need to be an expert,” says Howe. “Just be confident enough to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to call out digital natives on those bullshit acronyms… Many advertisers have built very strong desktop digital skills, and think they’ve sorted it, but mobile is how this next generation is going to be consuming media.”
“Invite a group of young, true digital natives into your business,” advises Conniff. He cites the example of Shine, a television production company which brought in a group of young candidates who would otherwise never have made it through the door, and the exciting work that they created.
Bridging the digital skills gap matters from a business perspective as well as from a creative one, claims Howe. Google intends to up-skill a million people across Europe, starting in Leeds in the UK, where the company has recently launched a ‘Digital Garage’ which will deliver digital skills training to 200,000 SMEs. “Google lives on ROI,” he says, “and in this case that investment is geared towards changing mind-sets.” He believes it is important to challenge that ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ attitude to which many advertisers are susceptible: “Help them know what they don’t know, what questions to ask, and what businesses need to change in order to follow the consumer.”
One point which was reiterated by each speaker throughout the session was that there should not be one benchmark for agencies to strive towards; excellence in this area will always be something of a moving target. “By the time you’ve created the training module, it will be out of date,” says Amelia Torode, Chief Strategy Officer at TBWA London. “The reality is, if you want to know how Meerkat or Snapchat work, just type it into Google. Waiting for someone to give you that silver bullet is the wrong mind-set to begin with.”