The UK’s marketing talent shortage is worsening outside London

John Denholm, co-founder of The Leith Agency and managing director of recruitment firm, Denholm Associates, discusses the derth of digital marketing talent working agency-side in the UK, outside of London.

Since moving into recruitment with Denholm – Recruitment, Search and Talent Attraction a few years ago after a career in marketing and advertising, by far the biggest issue I’m seeing today is a looming talent drought.

Talent shortages are holding back growth in many sectors – but particularly worrying to me this is taking place in digital marketing in all its forms, globally and across the UK, particularly in areas outside London.

Scotland, where Denholm operates as a specialist in marketing recruitment is a particularly ferocious battlefield for scarce talent, with unprecedented opportunity matched by severe and worsening talent shortages. The latest Bank of Scotland Report on Jobs states, “Growth in permanent job vacancies was faster than in the preceding survey period, and also well in excess of the survey’s long-run average. The current sequence of growth in demand for permanent staff now extend to 51 months.”

How has this happened? A number of events have come together to create a perfect storm for companies crying out for marketing talent to avoid stalling the most promising growth opportunity for a generation.

Recovery from recession

In my opinion the hiring function in most Scottish companies haven’t recognised how quickly things have turned round since the depths of 2008/9. “It’s a buyers’ market” still influences some Human Resource (HR) departments thinking. Dead right but not in the way they mean. The candidate is the buyer now!

Structural changes in marketing

“Digital” in marketing isn’t new anymore, but the pace of change towards everything online just keeps on accelerating with social, UX, data analytics, etc. growing faster than trained people arrive to fuel it.

-Re-birth of technical innovation in Scotland

Scotland in particular is experiencing the most exciting technical revolution that I’ve seen in my working life.

Relative newcomers like Skyscanner and Fan Duel are vying with established players like Aegon, Standard Life and Tesco Bank to suck in online marketing expertise across the whole technical and communications spectrum in order to fuel the stampede towards ecommerce online delivery. And organisations like VisitScotland are undergoing massive internal changes to attract dynamic marketers who you’d normally associate with private sector brand expertise in FMCG, Drinks and Telecoms. To support all this, a hinterland of digital agencies with growing national reputations like Whitespace, Blonde and Equator have arrived on the scene, but faced with a client community who are hoovering up digital talent, agencies are under even more pressure to fight for elusive talent. Business is having to get much better at engaging at graduate level, but for the time being they must attract experienced talent from beyond Scotland. This is not easy.

So what can we do about it?

Having arrived in recruitment after many years in marketing and advertising it’s been a real eye opener about how seldom brand principles are applied to the talent attraction process.

I suppose it’s not surprising – HR and marketing still remain distant cousins in too many organisations. At opposite ends of the corridors, physically and mentally.

And even when this gap is bridged, many of the old tools of candidate attraction e.g. recruitment press campaigns, were swept away in the digital tide, giving way to online job boards and LinkedIn offering apparently cheap ways of selling the vacancy, but doing precious little to sell the company to an increasingly indifferent candidate base.

Promoting your Employer Brand with the same degree of energy and sophistication as you do with your Consumer Brand is going to be the key to success and survival. At Denholm, our combined experience of marketing and recruitment helped us develop BrandBox, an online, cost effective tool to allow clients to advertise their vacancies at the same time as projecting strong employer brand messages to encourage top talent to engage with companies in long-term talent communities.

It involves building simple, bespoke, easy to access portals where clients can display their employer brand with relevant attractive messages, based on researching candidate attitudes and using copy, visuals and videos that can be inexpensively re-purposed from pre-existing consumer marketing materials.

It works particularly well for Scottish based companies who need to compete for top talent with blue chips from London and further afield, and who are often at a disadvantage perception-wise despite being centres of marketing excellence.

For example, one of our clients Maxxium has a low employer brand awareness at odds with the superb international consumer brands they market – Macallan, Courvoisier, Jim Beam, etc. from their Stirling base.

And VisitScotland who are currently revolutionising their marketing under Charlie Smith, ex-Vodafone, RBS and OVO Energy, are working with us to fill at least seven crucial marketing vacancies using a BrandBox page which spells out in a compelling text, visuals and video imagery the attractions of Scotland’s leading destinations brand to sophisticated marketers from Scotland, across the UK and increasingly globally.

I hope this tool, in some way, can help the battle we face to reverse the worrying trend I have outlined within the marketing industry. There’s a long way to go.

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