Why people need to be horizontally skilled.

The agency industry is undoubtedly a people-focused business. While it is a well-known fact, it is always essential to remind ourselves that we are not in an industry surrounded by developers and engineers. Our work revolves around human factors, as we strive to change people’s perceptions about a brand and deliver measurable results for our clients. It is crucial to remember that at the heart of our work are consumers, and we must continuously adapt and innovate to meet their evolving needs and preferences

Agencies do have access to various technologies, but let’s remember that these tools are supplementary and designed to enhance human connections with consumers. The human factor in an agency remains critical.

During my time working at network agencies in the past, the industry structure typically comprised of specialists in various fields such as TV, print, OOH, insights, etc. with account leaders serving as the generalists. The advent of digital brought about a significant shift, and digital specialists became highly sought after and crucial to agencies. However, the landscape has since evolved once again, and digital has become increasingly fragmented, with a multitude of channels and ways to connect with consumers.

A fragmented digital landscape requires a different approach

I strongly believe that it’s crucial for our talents to possess horizontal rather than vertical skill sets. In other words, it’s essential for individuals to have a broad range of skills and knowledge across various disciplines, rather than being limited to a single area of expertise. One of the reason for this, as highlighted earlier, is that the digital landscape is continuously evolving and changing rapidly, and what worked ten years ago may not be effective today.

Better results for our clients

Having horizontally skilled individuals on our team also allows us to deliver a higher level of service to our clients. This is evident not only in our ability to address all client’s questions in one go rather than asking 10 different specialists for their feedback, but also in our capacity to drive better campaign performance. With integrated knowledge across various platforms, our people can optimize campaigns more effectively and holistically. By taking a more integrated approach, we can deliver better results for our clients while also fostering stronger, more collaborative relationships between our team and our clients.

Better Talents retention

In addition to improving our service to clients, having horizontally skilled individuals on our team also promotes talent retention. In my experience, many candidates I interview express frustration with feeling stuck in their current agency and being unable to learn new skills. Is it because agencies are maximising the time spent to train them and want to increase the profitability as much as possible? This often results in a high turnover rate and unhappy employees.

It’s crucial to listen to our team members’ concerns and provide opportunities for continued growth and development to retain talents. By investing in our team’s development and providing opportunities to learn new skills, we create a culture of continuous learning and improvement that fosters employee satisfaction and loyalty. Ultimately, this translates into better outcomes for both our team and our clients.

Upskilling is a must have

I recently came across an article in Harvard Business Review that highlighted the critical importance of upskilling employees when launching a new business. While I agree that upskilling is crucial in the early stages of a company, I believe it’s equally important to prioritize ongoing employee development in every business and agency, regardless of its age or stage of growth.

During a recent discussion with one of our key clients, we debated the benefits and drawbacks of having people who are specialists versus those who are horizontally skilled. While both approaches have their advantages and disadvantages, I believe that clients ultimately benefit more from having horizontally skilled individuals on our team. By having a diverse range of expertise, we can develop more comprehensive and integrated strategies that leverage multiple platforms and channels to drive better campaign performance. And when we need more specialized expertise, we can tap into the unique skill sets of team members who have come to us from other specialist roles at other agencies. Ultimately, this approach ensures that our team remains agile, responsive, and capable of meeting our clients’ evolving needs.

Sebastien Lepez, Founder and CEO at JOLT Digital