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Hays Research – Marketers neglect core skills in favour of technical expertise

Marketing employers who focus too heavily on hiring and training around specific technical skills could be creating a skills imbalance at the heart of their business and impact their ability to embrace digital opportunities, according to the latest research from recruiting experts Hays Marketing.

The findings of the ‘Elements of a Marketer’ report, which surveyed almost 300 senior marketing professionals, reveal some interesting trends that marketing professionals need to adapt to.

Middle and senior management lack ‘core’ skills

Research shows some significant skills gaps in traditional, core marketing skills across all roles, with ‘analytical skills’ topping the list as the most sought after skill across all levels of seniority.

Top five most in demand core skills for marketers, according to respondents

Ranking Core skill %
1 Analytical/data interpretation 27%
2 Copywriting 16%
3 Creativity 12%
4 Customer centric 12%
5 Campaign/project management 9%


Most worryingly, some of the most significant core skills gaps are in the middle and at the top of marketing organisations and departments. 14% of respondents identified analytical skills as a significant skills gap within middle management, the widest gap for this skill across all seniority levels. These skills now lie at the heart of today’s marketing campaigns and it points to a potential shortage of future leaders with the right skills.

Meanwhile, nearly a quarter (21%) of respondents said the biggest skills gaps for senior managers are strategic-thinking followed by creativity (16%), without which an organisation may struggle to apply their team’s technical skills in the most effective way and fully deliver on marketing campaigns.

Marketing employers value core skills over technical

While there is some way to go to addressing the core skills gap, it appears that marketing employers have started to identify the challenge, with four-fifths (83%) of marketers stating they would hire a candidate who could demonstrate core skills, but lacked specific role experience. In addition, 71% said that team fit is more important than experience. It appears that candidates who focus on demonstrating their transferable skills and highlighting their core skills, rather than experience, will appeal most to employers.

The upskilling conundrum

With two-thirds (65%) of marketers saying they are focused on ‘internal training’ to combat skills gaps, it appears marketing businesses are set on combating skills gaps from within. While a top down approach to training would appear sensible, it is important that junior members of the team are not ignored while their senior colleagues are brought up to speed.

Clare Kemsley, Managing Director of Hays Marketing, says: “As marketing organisations have looked to address the evolution of digital technology they have focused on hiring and training for specific technical skills and tools, such as database management, social media channels or experience with CRM tools.

The downside of this approach has been that core marketing skills, such as analytical and project management skills, have been neglected, impacting their ability to embrace the opportunities they had their eyes on. This skills imbalance is already affecting marketing and storing up even more problems for marketing employers in the future.

“Core skills are vital to all marketers and without them technical abilities cannot be used to their full potential. Marketing leaders need to consider the ideal mix of skills, within their teams and within themselves, in order to be able to capitalise on the ever-evolving digital world. When looking for new roles, candidates should focus on highlighting their core skills and ‘fit’ with the organisation in order to increase their value, and earning potential, with future employers.”

Top tips for marketing managers and employers

Address the analytical skills gap

The survey identified that analytical skills gaps are greatest in middle management. Audit your team’s analytical abilities through project involvement, testing or one-on-one assessment. Once you have identified the critical skill gap areas, implement an action plan for upskilling. If the skill need is imminent, consider hiring interim analyst talent.

Prioritise core skills development

Develop core skills within your staff to cultivate a team which has a balanced mix of technical and core skills. First, undergo a core skill assessment across all levels to help identify where the problem areas are. Second, create an action plan for professional development areas and include in performance plans, staff reviews and promotional targets. Ensuring there is open communication about development of both core and technical skills will help employers achieve that desired balanced team.

Test the skills application

When hiring, go beyond just prioritising core skills, but test the potential candidate on their ability to apply these skills effectively for digital. Use behavioural or situational analysis questioning techniques or practical assessments to showcase the candidate’s skill level.

Top tips for all marketing professionals

Conduct a core skills self-assessment

Identify your core skills gaps and outline an action plan with your manager to ensure you can obtain the skills needed to successfully progress and become a marketing leader.

Develop technical skills

Technical skills and understanding is important at
all levels. Marketers, particularly senior leaders, should implement a process of continuous learning so they are up-to-date on what is available. Networking will be critical to understand what new software, tools and programmes there are and how your peers are using them.

Sell your core skills in interviews

If lacking a specific technical ability, demonstrate your ability/willingness to learn it whilst simultaneously showcasing what transferable skills you possess and how they add value. Given the importance placed on core skills, this will increase your chances of getting a job and broaden the career options available to you.

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