Gone are the days of digital being a black art

Remember the days when digital was something to be scared of? 15 years ago, brands and businesses would pay big money for digital strategy, UX, communications, CMS platforms and embarrassingly simple websites to be made by the ‘digital pros’.

In one of my first roles (back in the early 00’s), agencies “wouldn’t get out of bed for less than £100k to build a website”… no wonder brands were scared! It seemed that no matter how simple the website, that was the cost of using a so-called ‘new media agency’.

How times have changed

Fast forward 17 years and ‘clients’ and brands have become digitally savvy. They can’t be bedazzled like they once were with jargon. They now truly understand the value of connected user behaviour, platforms, tools, systems and how to harness the power of each (such as search, display, web, mobile, content, social, eCommerce).

So what exactly changed?

Digital can’t be implemented in isolation. It’s a collaborative process that can’t be completely outsourced. Over time, skilled talent from the external market place has penetrated the global brands and now works directly for the business.

Gone are the days of convoluted digital tools and systems that could only be operated by specialist agencies. Digital is more accessible, and is easier and cheaper to use than ever, despite being more advanced.

The user and the buyer are more connected than ever, and they spend more time and money in the digital space. This means that brands and businesses have no choice but to invest and be there too.

Digital’s moving in-house

This demystification of digital has given brands a wakeup call. They no longer need to spend millions with agencies. They have the talent and know-how to build in-house at a fraction of the cost. Providing better value, bigger ROI and a more seamless working environment as everything is under one roof.

So, is this the end of the agency?

The agency market is in decline – not just in digital but across the whole of the market. Their once flourishing workload and budget is now being fulfilled in-house or is going to new competitors in the landscape, such as the management consultancies. But, more importantly, brands and businesses are generally spending less externally with 3rd parties – I’ve seen it firsthand.

And this inward contraction within the market has thrown up both challenges and opportunities. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt, it’s that agency structures, ways of working and models – they don’t really change. Clients will always want more work for less money, and they don’t want to pay for huge teams with lots of layers. This has put margins at agencies under constant pressure. Redundancy levels are high and there’s been a shift from prioritising creative to prioritising margins. I won’t sugar coat it; it’s tough out there.

But fear not, as on the flip side this has led to an abundance of smart, creative, strategic, digitally savvy and customer focused talent who understand how to deliver in complex environments and when under pressure.

How can this benefit you?

This ebb and flow of expanding and contracting markets has presented an opportunity for everyone, and it’s this transition of talent from agencies to in-house that is crucial.

Global brands and management consultancies want experienced talent with both the strategic component and implementation ability to take ideas all the way through to the end product; not just deliver an all-singing, all-dancing PowerPoint. This opens up an exciting door for ‘digital agency talent’. They now have the opportunity to migrate to a new role that leverages their skills.

It’s because of all this that we’re now seeing a huge growth for digital in-house roles across everything from data & analytics, brand strategy, social media strategy, production, product strategy, digital acquisition & optimisation, eCommerce, eBusiness, content and editorial.

While the prospect of a new and fast changing digital landscape may seem scary, it’s actually liberating to see that digital doesn’t just reside in the marketing department anymore. For the world’s top brands and businesses, digital has moved centre stage. And with it, so has the digital talent.

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