The announcement from Accenture referenced below is one in a number of news stories over the last 12 months that have suggested that the future of digital buying will be a decentralized affair. The impact of programmatic buying has led to the possibility of ‘in-housing’ digital media spending (and eventually any media that can bought programmatically,) and the pros and cons of such a transition could be debated by people far more qualified than me for many days, but it does pose an interesting question for agencies, and digital talent looking for career progression.

Historically it’s been relatively easy for a digital planner/buyer to navigate a career path, being able to find equivalent roles to their own in both networks and independents, and making a move guided by on their own personal preference of company culture. They may have decided to move to work on a particular client or set of clients because of the quality of work that was being done, or a genuine passion for the category or brand. Or they may have been motivated to move for that universal career goal, a better job title and salary. Some agency talent may have looked to the other side of the fence – the publisher, and more recently the tech platform, and thought that they may like to try their hand at this too. Fundamentally, there was an easy equivalency for employers, and rather selfishly, for recruiters, looking at a CV – X years’ experience at a top 10 agency (or a recognised indy) means that they’ve probably got the right training and tools to interview for the role in question (though they’re by no means guaranteed to be right for the role.)  

The idea of ‘in-housing’ will be challenging to that notion, at least in the medium term. Not only do agencies have to worry about staff losses coming from somewhere other than their direct competitors, but they also face a new challenge when identifying and attracting great talent. In this more fractured labour market (already impacted by the proliferation of tech platforms and smaller digital agencies) it will be hard for agencies to just look for like-for-like replacements for their vacancies, and possibly more importantly, they will be competing with their own clients for the talent in question. Further to this, agency experience can be seen as a mark of quality for clients looking to make digital hires, but the same often can’t be said for people moving from client-side to agency, so the flow of talent will be weighted in one direction.

Job-searching will become complicated for good candidates as well. Going in-house may seem like a really attractive option, and I’d say a majority of people we meet see that as the long term goal for their careers, but it comes with a variety of challenges; locations tend to be outside of zone 1, you may be pigeon-holing yourself into working in one client category for the rest of your life, and you’ll be going from a company made up entirely of like-minded marketing professionals to an environment where the vast majority of the workforce aren’t marketeers, or may even be hostile to the idea of marketing. Whatever the long term impact of clients in-housing digital trading, it is harder than ever for digital talent to navigate a future career in the industry, and for agencies to get the best people into their business, and keep them there.