Invest in traditional skills to stay ahead in a digital age

Invest in traditional skills to stay ahead in a digital age

With another highly optimistic forecast from Bellwether today, it could be time for creative consultancies to rethink their own long-term investment plans.

The IPA's quarterly report into the confidence of the marketing services sector reveals marketing spend was revised higher in Q3 2013 at the strongest rate in almost 13 years. Indeed, confidence from brands appears to be nearly twice as high as in the previous quarter.

As usual, we must be cautious in our optimism because we know that, since the recession began in 2008, clients threaten to be permanently risk-averse. Procurement has tightened its icy grip on the purchase of creative services.

But there's no doubt now that money is beginning to flow back into promotional marketing. Interestingly, brands seem to be favouring main media (up 3.4 per cent) and internet advertising (up 11.7 per cent) over classic "below-the-line" techniques (PR, DM and events are all down), suggesting companies are bullish about creating "fame" for their brands. Cash-rich companies may be grabbing market share while media is perceived to be cheap.

Even with the coolest interactive work, design, film-making and copywriting are what sorts the wheat from the chaff

As money begins to flow back into agencies, they would be advised to use it wisely because the next few years will be so different from the pre-2008 world.

Talk to most agency bosses about the biggest challenges they face and "talent" will be high up the list; the recession has meant too little was drafted into the ad business as consultancies hunkered into survival mode. And with the talent shortage has come a skills/knowledge gap in some key areas.

It is a given that digital marketing skills are highly sought-after and most brands and agencies are now wisely investing in this area (one of the reasons that Campaign's parent, Haymarket, bought a stake in The Knowledge Engineers last week).

But it is also important that consultancies do not ignore traditional craft skills. The chief executive of a leading direct agency told me this week that this is what now keeps him awake at night: "There is a renewed interest in design and powerful copy, but these areas have been overlooked in the rush to digital."

Indeed, we are finding that even with the coolest interactive and social campaigns, traditional crafts of design, film-making and copywriting are what sorts the wheat from the chaff; the content that is admired and shared from that which is ignored.

The truth is that digital media are now maturing. Thus they require the same craft and excellence that, 50 years ago, transformed traditional poster and TV ads.

The channels may be evolving, but the factors that make some advertising great are immutable.

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