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Skills Shortage Hits Brand Side Marketers

Aquent Releases Its Findings from a Survey of Senior Brand-Side Marketers on Leadership, Productivity and Recruitment

Aquent/Vitamin T, the specialist recruiters for creative, digital and marketing talent, has announced the latest findings from its research with senior brand side marketing leaders into the realities of building, leading and growing a team. (Touched upon in its Salary and Employment Insights Report ). The UK’s skills shortage has hit the marketing sector, with marketing bosses finding talent in short supply (54%) and applicants under skilled (60%). Only a third (37%) say that their current team has all the skills they need to deliver.

Creativity challenges – mind the skills gap

Marketing is a job that depends upon creativity and requiring continuous innovation to stay ahead of the competition. The sector’s brand side leaders are seeing numerous barriers to achieving great things.

In today’s deadline heavy world, marketers are feeling the pressure with only 17% of marketing leaders saying that they can comfortably deliver within allocated time frames.

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A third (36%) say that their teams lack the tools such as software that they need to do their jobs and a further one in three (32%) say that their people lack the skills required to deliver brilliant work.  Presumably because of the above pressures with skills, tools and workload, approaching half (43%) of marketing leaders say they have to outsource creativity to agencies, even though it’s a core part of their day-to-day role.


With many marketing leaders seeing their teams stretched and under pressure to deliver, recruitment is a further challenge. More than half (54%) of respondents say that they are finding it hard to source the right people.

There simply isn’t enough time to find skilled employees. It’s not entirely surprising that only 16% of marketing leaders found recruiting easy to fit in. Half agreed that recruitment is deprioritised due to immediate deadlines.

To help alleviate this, nearly one in two companies use a recruiter to source quality candidates (44%), higher than recruitment advertising (on places other than LinkedIn) (38%), advertising on LinkedIn (34%) and recruiting internally (32%). A third of people agreed that using a recruiter results in the highest calibre of applicants (32%), above LinkedIn, advertising or using employees’ networks.

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Only one in ten (11%) leaders don’t rely on CVs to identify good candidates. This is low considering the evidence which has shown that traditional CVs present a limited picture of a candidate while alternative application methods might reveal good applicants that would otherwise go overlooked.

However, one in three marketers are using name blind approaches to recruitment, removing personally identifiable information from applicant CVs.

That said, nearly three quarters of marketing leaders ensure that job offers are only given to those passing a  practical test, with only 24% not requiring a work test. While using a task or carefully considered questions as a screening tool earlier in the process could lead to a pool of more viable applicants, it also has the potential to be more time consuming.

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Job hunters

The survey points to some of the candidates taking advantage of the skills shortage, which they may or may not be aware of. Half of participants agreed that applicants are clearly taking a blanket, templated one size fits all’ approach to job applications (51%). When considered with the fact that 60% think that applicants are under-skilled for the roles they’re applying for, it would seem that job hunters are being opportunistic regardless of their suitability for roles.

Putting time and effort into their CVs, whether to adjust them to each role or ensure that they are of the very best quality, would certainly benefit job applicants. Despite the availability of proofreading software, the greatest problem that recruiters have with CVs are typos and grammatical errors, identified as being problematic by 59% of people. After this, lots of job hunting or unexplained employment gaps make marketers wary (55%). While the written content of CVs is key, the design and layout are a surprisingly low priorities, only a third identifying CV design as problematic (37%). Half (50%) found that applicants tended to lack explicit proof points when it comes to applications.

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When it comes to job hunters, it’s not all bad news. Regardless of their skillset, over half of participants agree that applicants tend to have a portfolio of great work and are keen to work at their companies (57%). It also speaks well for job hunters that only 38% feel that interviewees are underprepared and half disagree that punctuality is an issue (45%).

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It’s not just interview preparation or what’s on paper that counts, however, 69% of leaders say that cultural fit is a key priority when hiring. Relevant skills, a great portfolio and answering questions in detail are all well and good, but doing some research beforehand on a company’s culture and ethos prior to applying would certainly bolster a candidate’s likelihood of success.

The reality of being a leader

In these pressured times, good leadership is more important than ever. The survey explored how respondents assessed their own management skills. The data showed marketing bosses are confident leaders with most assessing their leadership as good (63%). A fifth (21%) say they are about average, 8% are trying to improve their leadership skills and only 6% think they are a poor boss.  There is an interesting gender split around the findings. Only a third of the people considering themselves good leaders are women (despite a 55/45% male female respondent split). Women made up, nearly three quarters (71%) of those saying they were not good leaders.

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 Still too stale, male, pale

Despite the recent focus on equality, the demonstrated business case for leadership & team diversity and the highlighting of the gender pay gap, three quarters of senior marketers still think that the senior leadership team in their company is not diverse enough. Respondents also consider their firms to be challenged on the diversity front, with a disappointing one in four (27%) saying that the straight, white male leadership only wants to recruit in their image.

However, more positively, equality is further up the agenda for 24% of brands with marketing leaders saying their company is actively working towards a more diverse culture with women, people of colour and members of the LGBTQX communities in leadership positions. These firms are also actively seeking a balance when it comes to company wide diversity.

A further 25% of brand side marketing leaders say that while there are some diversity challenges within their firm but the leadership is actively removing barriers to progression by offering mentoring, flexible working, equal shared paid parental leave, etc.

Read More: The Future of AI: Are Jobs Under Threat?

Senior motivations

Overall, most senior marketers (60%) are motivated by the idea of self-improvement and the challenge of stretching their intellect. This is even higher than those who say the salary and benefits package (56%) is what drives them. Other key motivators were socially based with half (48%) saying a shared team experience is a key factor in them enjoying their job and a similar number (42%) said that developing talent. Almost one in two leaders are motivated by the chance to turn a situation around, making something negative into something positive.  This paints a picture of a nurturing, collaborative cohort of marketing leaders who still want to see results.

A third of leaders (34%) say competition is a motivator and less than one in three (30%) said that driving business success for their firm was a key factor in them doing a good job at work.

When asked what HR issues kept them up at night, the most commonly cited reasons were retention, finding good people with the right skills and being let down by current employees. They are aware and concerned by how much pressure unfilled roles put on the rest of their team, and feeling anxious by the search for quality talent with the skills shortage. Marketers are clearly feeling the need to keep their existing teams motivated and happy at work.

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Getting better

Overall, more than half of marketing leaders (63%) say that the marketing industry is a healthier place to work than a decade ago. The most common reasons were around improved worklife balance, access to opportunities and technology developments. However, a substantial minority feel that things have not improved. The increased level of competition and workload volumes were frequently commented on. Decreasing barriers to entry led one respondent to comment, Now everyone has a computer and keyboard they all think they can design and copy write.”

 Job tenure and working hours

Despite the perception that marketers and creatives are a flighty bunch, just over half (51%) feel that people stay in roles between two and five years, and 15% cite average tenures between five and ten years. Only a quarter (27%) say the average time in role is below two years.

Brand side senior marketers are seeming to keep their work life balance in good shape with the most frequent number of hours worked being 40 (mode) and the average being almost 43 hours a week.

Aliza Sweiry, Managing Director, UK, Aquent/Vitamin T says, “We’re operating in a people focused industry. However, finding good people is a major headache. Our research shows that marketing leaders are finding it tough to source team members and many applicants are missing out on their dream job through not doing the basics like proofing their CV and tailoring applications to each job. That said with the skills shortage it’s a seller’s market and quality talent is snapped up. Fast.”

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