The Digital Skills Shortage Just Got Serious .


What factors over the past decade (and particularly over the past 18 months) have led to the current digital skills shortage we face in the UK?

For ten years now our industry has been talking about the skills shortage. At the beginning it was something we referred to as the “rush to the middle”. This was created by the sudden realisation in Adland that agencies needed to be far more digital to stay ahead of the curve and therefore putting them in direct competition with the big tech brands when it came to securing talent. To compound this a wave of new start-ups like UberCab, AirBed & Breakfast and Picaboo (snapchat) were tempting new talent in a different direction. In total, demand was outstripping supply.

Fast forward to 2019 and the situation has become far worse. Entrepreneurship is at an all-time high with over 10% of UK companies launching as start-ups this year. New starters often expect a level of pay and flexibility that matches experience they don’t yet have – this can feed the exploitation of internship programmes.

Traditional businesses are transforming and need the right people to drive digital change but simply being native is not enough. Add an environment of political and economical uncertainty and you also see a rise in day-rate working or ‘temping’ to make the maximum income during a period of change.

Which type of organisations are getting the best talent?

The current draw is from businesses that want to create an ideal work-life balance. Half of this equation is around flexibility with shorter weeks, unlimited leave, paid sabbaticals and enhanced maternity/paternity packages. The other half is focussed on the workplace itself with onsite medical, free lunches, bring your pets to work and profit share. If these elements exist alongside a great brand, strong pay and a safe culture, then the pain of acquiring the most skilled can be negated somewhat.

The flip side is that it’s important to recognise that human behaviour still follows particular patterns. According to National Statistics, people are still most likely to spend the majority of down time playing computer games, watching movies and reading. It’s a fantasy to think that everyone wants to head to the gym or go cycling as part of the quest for well-being. Flexibility in working practices can create entirely new business challenges of inconsistency, message loss and mini-silos. So, businesses need to weigh up various risks when creating an environment that is magnetic for talent.

What sort of digital skills are especially in demand at the moment?

The ‘unicorn’ roles are always changing because technology and its impact cause everyone to micro-pivot. Often the industry’s expectation of related skills in an emerging platform are far too high. We fantasise that there are experts that have been sitting in darkened rooms developing this stuff and now that the world wants to buy the new concept that the right skills will flood onto the market.

Right now, some of the obvious gaps can be mapped directly onto Gartner’s hype curve – so there is a demand and deficit in practical knowledge around AI, ML, deep learning and IOT.

But if you step back further and take the whole digital ecosystem into account then it’s become far harder to find the stock trades like Agile scrum masters, enterprise CMS developers and even PPC marketers.

When it comes to careers in digital, does the concept of a 4-year university course even work anymore? What are the alternatives?

I’ve never been a fan of the generic digital course, especially lengthy ones. Key digital tools should play a role in every lesson regardless of the subject matter. I’d like to see this supplemented by showing young people the art of the possible. Areas where digital enables education to stretch far beyond our imagination, allowing the pupils to try new techniques.

Secondly, I believe that there are key digital specialisms that should be a choice in schools. We’ve come leaps and bounds cementing the idea that coding is important but what else?

We need to create an appetite for the capabilities of digital in the wider context. Then when a college leaver decides to go into construction, logistics, retail or public services they enter it with a fresh perspective and add value from day one.

What advice can you offer businesses hoping to attract and retain the digital talent they need?

I think a truly digital attitude is required. A culture of hacking, testing, experimentation, automation etc looks very different from the outside. Many businesses truly believe they have embraced digital and the way it puts the customer front and centre but much smoke and mirrors are involved - young people can sniff it out from miles away. Be honest, transparent and above all else be porous – absorb the ideas, thinking and processes of others as this will not only transform your fortunes but make you very attractive to the most skilled emerging talent.

Unless you have a churn strategy where you intend to have a constant flow of new digital people – nothing wrong if that’s intentional – you’ll need to create paths to grow with succession planning. Those working in digital can be quite transient but loyalty is still there to be won if you encourage opportunities and freedom.


Should your digital team be in-house, outsourced or a mix of both?

Huge question – there are many factors involved in this type of decision. The type of strategy you’re following, your budget sizes, the type of objectives you want to achieve and the agility you need to maximise revenue or market share. Many of the answers can be counter intuitive and you’ll often notice a flowing cycle of resource shift often connected to the style of the most recent management tier.

I often hear potential clients say that they can’t afford an agency, but I know from experience that hiring the right level of skill internally is not only challenging and time-consuming, it costs far more in the medium term. The same can be said of brands that outsource a raft of areas that I believe are fundamental to the brand and should be wholly owned by them. It’s swings and roundabouts - a mix always wins but it’s for each business to think hard about how best to achieve their biggest objectives and guard against risk of disruption from competitors to get that mix just right.

Would you like to hear more about how Sagittarius could support the digital skills gap in your business? Get in touch today at or on 01233 467800.

This blog was originally posted via The Drum Network on 11th February 2019.

Whatever your business, be it a regional or global brand, the content you produce plays a vital role in your success. You know that… hence you’re reading this.

A well formulated and executed content strategy not only drives more traffic, at the core, it defines what your business is and helps build a strong connection between you and your audiences.

So let's quickly look at why developing a coherent content strategy is important and how setting clear goals and understanding your audience will elevate your online performance. 

What is a Content Strategy?

It's basic right? Content is at the core of how you define the way your business presents itself and an effective strategy should look to ensure that tone of voice, messaging and the core values are surfaced across all channels, from service or product pages on your website, to blog posts, through social media updates blah blah blah.

But let's keep it simple - your content strategy should be a clear roadmap that connects your marketing activities to your business goals. Align to your customer’s wants and needs and engage them at every interaction point and boom, you're in business. 

Who are my Audience?

You likely start all your projects with this chalked on the wall because your business knows “exactly” who its customers are right? Sounds obvious but we often find its not been done forensically enough (not based on data), is too old (more than 12 months ago - forget it) or its a spin off from some brand work that was legitimately aspirational but doesn’t face the reality of who you your business is actually engaging today.

So start (or circle back) with audience research, building out those personas to understand their ambitions, their lifestyle, their pain points or concerns, and crucially their wants and needs - in your context. 

Do I need to tailor content?

As part of your research find out where your audiences spend their time online and how they interact with content: Some may spend time thoroughly researching a product or service, whereas other audiences may want their content to be quick, snappy or easily digestible in the form of a video, infographic or short blog posts.


Ultimately, the key is to produce a strategy that creates the type of content your customers want to see:

  • What are the problems that your product or service will help them solve?

  • Who are they most influenced by?

  • What voices influence their behaviour?

  • What type of content do they consume?

  • Where do they consume content and engage with brands?

Different Content, Different Objectives

 All content is not born equal: When producing your strategy, it is important that the objectives for each individual piece are defined, that these fulfil your marketing objectives and tie to the overarching goals for your business.

There are various content frameworks that exist to aid content development in this way, but one that is popular and effective is Google’s hero, hub and hygiene method: It provides a framework on developing content to achieve different goals and gives guidance on the effort needed to create each type of content.

Hero Content

Hero content is essentially campaign content, it is big splash ideas designed to appeal to a large audience with the aim of telling your brand’s story at scale. 

Ways of measuring hero include the amount of PR mentions or links from authoritative domains plus social interactions and mentions of your brand across all channels. 

Considering the scale of hero campaigns, this content is not regularly produced and is reserved for peak promotional times where it’s important for a business to stand out from their competitors.

Hub Content

Hub content is the stuff that keeps your audience engaged, it expands on the themes of product or service level content, educates users and helps create a connection between themselves and your brand.

Hygiene Content

Hygiene content is the bread and butter of any website, it is the BAU content for products and services, it is SEO focused and targets important keywords at a product, service or guide level.

How do I manage all this?

Content development is only one part of the ongoing work needed when working with an effective content strategy. We call it “feeding the beast” because it really is the fuel in your brand vehicle and once you start you really can’t stop (if it’s delivering results) but that’s where performance measurement comes in.

Your greatest gift in managing the outputs from your hero/hub/hygiene style efforts is to understand If your content is working. To truly deliver results your business must first understand the objectives and goals of each piece of content to effectively measure its success. That as a guiding light from day 1 will let you slow down, speed up, stop or start new content briefs and projects.

Remember - content strategies are not set in stone. They are living breathing things and should adapt and pivot as insights become available and your brand naturally evolves.

If ever you want to chat content and explore new initiatives we’re always here to help.

want to speak to one of our experts?

Thumbnail Ian MacArthur
Ian MacArthur
Chief Experience Officer
Ian is a highly experienced and award-winning creative strategist specialising in bringing brands closer to their audiences through digital marketing transformation and optimisation. With over 26 years’ experience and well over 10,000 projects under his belt, Ian is proud to have worked with some of the world’s most impressive brands, helping them solve business problems and approach challenges differently.

Ian heads up the experience optimisation (XO) division at Sagittarius, working with all teams and clients across the business and globe.
Thumbnail Ian MacArthur

Ian MacArthur

12 Feb 2019 - 5 minute read
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