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UK agency poll echoes global survey showing skills ‘crisis’

More than half (51.7%) of UK agencies surveyed this autumn said they are struggling to recruit. And nearly 40% of respondents said they currently needed to fill 10-20% of their permanent staff.

Bristol marketing agency Purplefish conducted the study in September and October 2022, commissioned by Flume Digital Marketing. Sixty agency leaders from companies specialising in advertising, marketing, digital and media were asked for their views on recruitment and outsourcing.

“Recruitment can be particularly difficult for agencies,” explains Jacques Du Bruyn, managing director of Flume, which specialises in outsourcing digital skills to the UK. “Many are small-to-medium sized enterprises – so if they’re struggling to fill even a small percentage of their workforce, it can really affect their ability to deliver for existing clients or take on new work. If you’re having difficulty sourcing 10-20% of your workforce, that can have a significant impact on the sustainability of your business.”

This snapshot poll of UK agencies echoes recent global research by the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) and global media advisers Media Sense[i], which found that nearly half (48%) of all advertisers, agencies, ad tech companies and media owners worldwide think the industry is facing its “worst-ever crisis”.

“Here in the UK, the number of overall vacancies in the UK surpassed one million in 2021, the highest level since 2001,” comments Joanna Randall, managing director of Purplefish, “and our digital skills are at an all-time low. This is reflected in the results of our poll.”  

Web and app development roles were the positions most agencies struggled to recruit, with 40.5% of respondents in the Flume survey naming these skills are the most difficult to attract, closely followed by SEO skills (38.1%), and PR roles (33.3%). A fifth of agencies who responded struggled to fill eCommerce roles.

The cost was unsurprisingly cited by most survey respondents (55.2%) as one of the key factors affecting the decision to outsource. However, quality was still a significant factor, stated by just under a third of respondents at 32.7%. Recruitment challenges (12%), inhouse capacity vs workload/demand (10.3%), the effect on their reputation (10.3%) and skills they didn’t have in-house (8.6%) were other factors mentioned.

“Whether to build resource in-house or outsource specialised skills is an ongoing debate for agencies, and one that doesn’t have a simple answer,” comments Jacques Du Bruyn.

“Outsourcing can save you time and cost on recruitment and allows you to access specialist skills almost instantly, without expending effort on training. An in-house team is often seen as more controllable – but you have to be able to find (and retain) the right talent, a difficult task in today’s market, as research has shown.”

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