‘Yes. But Can Your Agency Actually Do This Stuff?’

Simon Quarendon | March 24, 2021

The relationship between the skills creative agencies’ staff have and the services they offer to clients is an important one. Integral, you might say, to their success. So, it’s surprising its an ambiguous area. And that lack of clarity could cost agencies dear.

It’s why we’re now presenting Skills Heat Maps to all our MDs giving them a data-driven view of the skills their staff have and where their skills gaps might be.

What questions are leaders asking about skills?

We’re now asking the agency MDs to review their service portfolios in the light of this new insight and to ask themselves these questions:

  • “Do my staff have the skills needed to deliver the services we list on our website?” and
  • “Can I see evidence on the Heat Maps that we are what we claim to be; specialists with deep sector expertise?”

If they could, it would be showing on the map as glowing red, which equates to the highest score possible that a member of staff could award themselves.

What questions should leaders be asking about skills?

A more important question I’m suggesting they ask themselves is this one: “Do I know what skills my clients put a premium on, and if so, do my staff have those skills and is this reflected in my pricing strategy?”

What are we asking?

And finally, perhaps the most important question we’re asking every MD when reviewing their agency’s heat map is this one: “Do you know what skills your clients will need from you in the future and if so, what steps are you taking to ensure your staff are equipped with them?”

A Programme to Discover Hidden Talents

These Heat Maps are the result of a programme we carried out late last year where we asked all staff to take part in a formal skills audit. This audit involved each staff member to complete a simple online survey where they ranked themselves in terms of the skills they believe they had.

The ‘Hidden Talents’ programme was so called as we were aware that each agency acquisition brought into the Group skilled staff; the only trouble was, we didn’t know what these skills were!

To complete the audit, we used a highly innovative software tool called Skills Base and two highly proficient consultants (Niki Hurst Smith and Helen Underhill) to manage it.

Can You Game an Audit?

Asking staff to rank themselves carries its own set of risks. Would they try and game the system and score themselves more highly in order to impress us? Would modest staff mark themselves down when compared with their more extroverted colleagues? Would so-called reserved Brits play down their skills to not appear boastful?

Thankfully, we believe that the skills audit is a highly accurate assessment of the skills that we have in place across the group.

Gaining Insight at Three Levels

These Heat Maps are now providing insights at several levels. At a Group level, we can now see where we need to devote more training investment to rectify some group-wide skills gaps. (But as describing these would put us at a competitive disadvantage our lips will remain sealed).

At an agency level it allows the senior management team to better align their services with the skills that their staff have.
And at an individual level it gives each member of staff a real insight into those areas that they need to focus on if they’re to develop and move ahead in their careers.

To further help them, we’ll shortly be announcing the reopening of our College which will provide individualised learning pathways. (Watch this space).

We’ll be re-running the skills audit later in the year and will be looking for quantifiable evidence that these training investments have closed the skills gaps identified in the initial audit. Hopefully the Heat Maps will then take on a very different shade of red!

Skills Heat Maps Have Other Uses Too

We’re also now considering whether to use these Heat Maps during the – increasingly in-depth – due diligence process we carry out prior to an agency acquisition. Clearly, a highly skilled workforce is a more valuable one and this could be reflected in the price paid for the agency.

At the moment, this skills inventory remains hidden from view, but for how much longer? Surely a pre-acquisition skills audit would yield a far more valuable insight into an agency’s true worth than the majority of documents that are uploaded to our pre-acquisition data rooms currently do?

And might clients wake up to their potential too? Imagine presenting a Skills Heat Map instead of a ‘list of clients we have worked for’ as evidence of industry expertise.

That’ll be the day some agencies may find it too hot to stay in the proverbial kitchen.

Simon Quarendon

Simon Quarendon is a veteran marketer and communicator with a career spanning nearly 40 years. He has bought, built, sold, rescued, led and mentored just about every kind of creative communications agency in existence and run global accounts for the best in the world. Today, Simon runs the business end of Selbey Anderson, working across the group to make sure clients get the best and the agencies all prosper.