Agency Skills Shortage: Temporary vs Permanent solutions

 |  By: Kate Jones In: Agency management

Finding highly-skilled resource is one of the biggest challenges agencies face and it’s never been harder than right now.

Before absolutely everything went online, brands used agencies for their digital needs – now digital is the norm, brands are building their own teams in-house. So where agencies once had a bit of a monopoly on skills, there’s now competition from companies with much deeper pockets who offer job security, benefits packages and more.

Agencies are also competing with global consultancies such as Deloitte and Accenture buying up smaller agencies and attracting the cream of the graduate crop.

If all that wasn’t enough, Covid has given the corporate nine to five a bit of a facelift and agencies aren’t the only ones offering flexible hours and remote working.

So what can be done?

Agency office

How can agencies compete?

The positive is that there will always be people who wince at the idea of a corporate nine to five, even if that picture’s had a dramatic overhaul recently.

Some personality types will be naturally drawn to agencies due to culture, diversity of work, the challenge, creativity, wellbeing and simply better parties and a fun and relaxed environment.

But you don’t offer all these things simply by being an agency, you need to bring it all to the table. If people find they join for all these reasons, then sit behind a desk doing the same work, day-in-day-out - albeit in trainers and jeans - it’s not going to wash long-term. A recruitment problem then becomes a retention problem.

Here’s some advice on making your agency attractive to new starters, as well as somewhere they want to stay.

Personal development

Offer formal personal development. Put some structure around this, map it out and set goals and milestones.

Don’t leave it to a gut feel that someone might be bored, or only look at progress once a year paying lip service for the sake of corporate paperwork. Have a genuine commitment to progressing your team and buck the trend of two years and they’re out, with two years then you’re promoted (or sooner.)

Keep work fresh

Agencies have a unique opportunity to offer variety of work. This can be a key differentiator vs working for one brand so use this opportunity and keep things fresh.

The Agency Works say that 80% of your work should come from existing clients, so OK there’ll be some repetition, but this also means that 20% of your work can be fresh. Even if it’s the same type of work, a fresh client or fresh project can make a huge difference.

Be somewhere people want to work

This may sound a bit obvious but it’s easy to forget about the skills shortage once you’ve recruited. This can lead to taking employees for granted and assuming your agency offers what you think it does. So, what’s your agency's hook? Award winning work, a supportive wellbeing-focused culture, fun, zero politics, environmental sustainability, ethical clients, employee ownership, epic parties?

Ask your team, and potential future team members, what matters to them. Then embrace it, invest in it and make it the core of your business.

Agency office

If we can't recruit, we can use freelancers or contractors, right?

In busy, pressured and changeable agency environments, freelancers are often used in the short-term. But you need to be thinking about how you’re going to grow and hit key financial milestones. If you want to grow, you need to think long-term. You need to consider how using freelancers or contacts might impact the profits and value of your agency.

Essentially, freelancers should be used if you need a specialist skill that you don’t offer in-house, there’s an unusual peak in workload, or if there’s a holiday to cover. If there is a long-term surge in work or you're planning to consistently grow revenue, you should try to recruit.

You need a solid recruitment plan based on data. How much resource do you need to deliver your target revenue? What skills do you need? And you need to work now to ensure that your agency is attractive to the types of people you want to recruit.

Being able to look forward in your agency...

...and see what work you have coming in and what capacity is like by role is essential when addressing whether you need a permanent member of staff or freelance support.

It could be that you don't need either. That there are inefficiencies in your current processes that can be addressed to make your existing team more productive. But if you aren't using a proficient scheduling system that's integrated with wider project and business data, then it will be infinitely harder or even impossible to see this.

Using a complete agency management system will give you easy and fact-based visibility on where efficiencies can be made. As well as where you do need to recruit and the true impact of freelance support.

If you want to read more about managing resourcing within agencies, you may enjoy this article:

Agency resourcing, managing the peaks and troughs