Talent Crisis Crippling Marketers And Agencies: Study

September 21, 2017


 ANA’s AEF Report Uncovers Severe Disconnect Between Industry, Academia and Students: Immediate Steps Needed

Brand and Business Growth Impaired


NEW YORK (September 21, 2017) — A fundamental and potentially debilitating divide exists among key constituents in the talent crunch currently embroiling the advertising and marketing industries that must be bridged to prevent a looming industry crisis, according to a groundbreaking new study by the ANA Educational Foundation (AEF).

The study, “Bridging the Talent Disconnect: Charting the Pathways to Future Growth,” revealed that marketers and ad agencies are facing a severe talent challenge as college graduates are turning away from marketing and advertising to other, seemingly more appealing fields to build their careers. It cited “a looming marketing and advertising talent crisis,” driven in large part by a lack of common vision, vocabulary, and perceived relevance among marketers, young professionals and the colleges and universities where they matriculate.  The research further confirmed that the talent disconnect is particularly acute in the lack of diversity throughout the industries examined in the report.

Individuals from three primary groups crucial to the talent issue were surveyed in the study: the advertising and marketing industries (CMOs, ad agency executives, HR executives, line managers); academia (university professors, deans, career counselors); and the talent itself (new hires and college students). The report was commissioned by the AEF and conducted by market research company GfK.

“Finding and retaining talent has been a serious problem in our industry for some time,” said ANA CEO Bob Liodice.  “But this pioneering new study has revealed that the system to create our next generation of marketing and advertising talent is strained to a breaking point.  Immediate action is required, and the AEF has developed the necessary steps to address this critical issue by bridging the gap between the core constituents.”

Overall, the report said that among the three key groups, students are unclear what defines a career in marketing or advertising and are unsure it constitutes meaningful work.  Universities meanwhile are racing to develop curricula that reflects current reality, but they remain conflicted by the need to produce graduates with relevant skills and critical thinking capabilities.  At the same time, marketers and ad agencies say they are frustrated by trying to understand the student mindset and find many recent graduates unprepared to enter the workplace. 

“Our next generation of talent will be the single most important driver of industry growth,” said AEF President-CEO Gord McLean.  “Marketers and agencies must take the lead, but we know from experience that whenever we get together with the academic community the most important players – the students themselves – benefit.”

The report identified four key reasons for the disconnect:

  1. Digital transformation complicates new marketing and advertising career paths: The increased use of digital communications in marketing has changed the way the industry communicates with consumers. This development has created roles within organizations that didn’t previously exist, like social media managers and digital centers of excellence, which in turn changes requirements for “hard skills” in data and advanced analytics. These constantly evolving skill requirements and job definitions have made it difficult for marketers and agencies to define and promise clear career paths to students and prospective hires with any consistency.
  2. Marketers and agencies now directly compete with technology companies for highly skilled talent: As demand for data analytics and digital expertise in marketing increases, marketers and their agencies find themselves competing with consultancies and tech giants like Boston Consulting Group, Google, Facebook and Apple.  This class of companies readily offer more generous compensation packages to new hires, both in terms of salary and perks. Aggressive recruiting tactics in the tech world further help them connect with talent faster and make concrete offers well in advance of marketing and advertising companies.
  3. The expectations of today’s crop of young talent differ from previous generations: Differing generational expectations of work environment, job responsibilities and career advancement make it challenging for older generation managers to effectively work with and retain the new generation of workers. Young talent often seek “purpose” in their work and “fun” job environments established by the start-up culture.
  4. College and university curricula cannot keep pace with the rapid change going on in the industry. Course work and text books are out-of-date almost as soon as they’re published, and much that is taught about marketing and communications is outdated and unrelated to management expectations and students’ actual experience in the field.

The Association of National Advertisers (ANA) and the AEF are calling on marketers and agencies to partner with educators to inspire and prepare the next generation of marketing and advertising leaders. The movement is dubbed Pathways 2020 and aims to create a wider, more diverse, and better prepared pool of talent to fuel industry growth.  At the same time, it will make the case for what a creative, innovative and rewarding a career marketing can be.  As a first step, the ANA/AEF is launching the following Pathways programs:

  • 1000 Industry Campus Visits
    • AEF and the ANA are collaborating to power over 1000 marketing and advertising executive campus visits by 2020.  The AEF will create a formalized “tool kit” for industry representatives to ensure professional consistency of content and engagement in each visit.
  • 1000 Professors Inspired
    • AEF will expand the reach of its current “Visiting Professors” program to ensure at least 1000 professors will have on-site industry experiences by 2020 and will welcome professors to ANA member conferences and committee meetings.
  • 1000 Students Immersed
    • AEF will create formal, “accredited” guidelines and best practices for internship experiences that will bring industry consistency in the identification, recruitment, and training of students coming into the marketing and advertising industry. AEF also will actively engage its extensive network of professorial and campus relationships to better source promising talent for the industry.  The AEF’s goal is to have 1000 students participate in AEF immersion programs such as a summer internship or a week long immersion experience by 2020.

McLean added that, given the industry’s critical need to engage more diverse talent from a broader range of colleges and universities, diversity will inform every aspect of Pathways 2020 program development.  To help accomplish that goal, he said the AEF will partner with ANA’s Alliance for Inclusive & Multicultural Marketing (AIMM), a wide-ranging alliance launched last October to create a powerful, unified voice for the advancement of multicultural marketing.


The AEF is the bridge that connects the advertising, marketing and academic communities.  Together we educate and inspire the next generation of talent while advancing the understanding of the role of marketing and advertising in society.  Created in 1983 and supported by marketers, agencies and media companies, the AEF is a 501(c) 3 operating foundation.  We create educational content and connect practitioners with professors and students on college campuses across the country.  Through our ‘Pathways’ talent initiative we also develop programs that will better prepare students for careers in the industry.  The AEF joined the Association of National Advertisers in 2015 as their educational foundation.

The ANA (Association of National Advertisers) makes a difference for individuals, brands, and the industry by driving growth, advancing the interests of marketers and promoting and protecting the well-being of the marketing community. Founded in 1910, the ANA provides leadership that advances marketing excellence and shapes the future of the industry. The ANA’s membership includes more than 1,000 companies with 15,000 brands that collectively spend or support more than $400 billion in marketing and advertising annually. The membership is comprised of more than 750 client-side marketers and 300 associate members, which include leading agencies, law firms, suppliers, consultants, and vendors. Further enriching the ecosystem is the work of the nonprofit ANA Educational Foundation (AEF), which has the mission of enhancing the understanding of advertising and marketing within the academic and marketing communities.


John Wolfe
Director of Communications
Office: 212.455.8011
Cell: 914.659.8663
Email: jwolfe@ana.net