Jonny Ross chairs roundtable event with directors of Yorkshire’s top digital agencies

Think Yorkshire digital roundtable

I was delighted to be asked to chair a digital industry roundtable event yesterday, bringing together directors of the biggest and best digital agencies in Yorkshire – including Epiphany, twentysixdigital, Stickyeyes and Home – as well as Head of Tech from Sky and Morrisons’ Head of Innovation.

Organised by Yorkshire Mafia, the aim of the ‘Think Yorkshire’ event was to discuss industry-related themes and some of the most important and pressing issues affecting businesses and the digital sector in Yorkshire today.

Does Yorkshire have a digital skills gap?

The region’s digital scene has thrived in recent years, but the arrival of big players like Sky has led to some in the digital agency sector raising concerns about skilled developers and other tech professionals being “sucked up” by these larger organisations.

So I began by asking, “do we have a skills gap?” The general consensus round the table was that whilst this may have a knock on effect, having big brands based in Yorkshire invaluably contributes to the region’s business success. And this ultimately allows the wider sector to thrive. There was general agreement that the ability of these companies to invest heavily – as they are doing – in training and development to further upskill the professional digital community in Yorkshire was a big positive and a benefit to all in the region.

Yorkshire-grown digital skills and collaborating with universities

Another key topic raised was how businesses in Leeds could collaborate and engage more with universities. Greater collaboration with universities in the region could prove vital in filling any skills gaps.

The conversation veered towards how, by engaging more with digital agencies and businesses, universities could learn more about teaching students business and ‘softer skills’ around digital and technological innovations and working practices.

An interesting debate developed about skills and whether the likes of account managers should learn technical skills and whether web developers should be customer facing and thereby learn more customer service skills.

Interestingly, Morrison’s are currently focusing on developing soft skills in their technical/digital departments. The conversation reached a general agreement that we, as agencies, are focusing on developing so-called soft skills, helping the likes of account managers become more technical etc. Everyone agreed on the importance of developing a solid balance of skills.

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Being proud of Yorkshire

Another notable accord the roundtable participants passionately shared was the fact we’re all proud of being in Yorkshire. We discussed how some of Britain’s biggest brands are making Yorkshire their home. Burberry, Alexander McQueen, John Lewis and Go Outdoors and many more international brands, are just several of the huge brands that are heading north and settling in the vibrant commercial community of Leeds. Therefore taking advantage of the transport infrastructure, hefty amounts of foreign investment, and burgeoning business success stories Leeds and the wider Yorkshire business community is enjoying.

92% of clients don’t trust their agencies

One staggering statistic we talked about, is the fact that 92% of clients don’t trust their agencies. Unbelievable but unfortunately true!

The group talked about the importance of trust and transparency. We also asked ourselves: why would we want to be in such an untrusting environment? But agreed that high levels of mistrust in digital agencies overall can provide those of us who focus on developing trust, with the chance to stand out from the crowd.

We also touched upon performance marketing, how agencies can measure having a good attribution model, and how clients are wanting to measure the impact of campaigns on their ‘brand’. The agency owners around the table generally agreed that it is essentially impossible to measure ‘brand’. What is however possible, is being open, honest and setting clear objectives with clients.

Using digital tools internally

The Think Yorkshire discussion also brought up the subject of tools and what software and tools we use internally. One of the group has developed 47 inhouse tools – because they strongly believe you don’t solve problems with software. Firstly, you need to understand how your teams work. Even going back to simple pen, paper and excel sheet methods. Once you understand what the need is, you should then develop software to fill that need.

Will PPC move in-house?

There was also a heated debate around the table on whether PPC services is something agencies will no longer need to deliver because a growing number of businesses are moving PPC in-house, and what the possible implications of this could be.

One strong viewpoint was that agencies are now able to be more up-to-date with technology and strategies, more aware of their competition. The fact that businesses have stronger relations with Google was also brought up and how we are now able to start using some of the Google products before they are released.

Will PPC be taken over by AI?

The rather staggering statistic – that 98% of Google’s revenue is generated by Adwords – sparked an interesting discussion on whether AI could deliver programmatic buying, similar to how Amazon ‘knows’ what we’re about to buy next and almost has items waiting to be shipped!

This topic led us nicely to an area in which we as a digital community believe we should be talking more about more, the likes of Chatbot’s, VR, Echo Dot, smartwatches and drones.

Near Field Communication

The group discussed Near Field Communication (NFC) and how, just five years ago, nobody wanted to talk about it. However, today Dell is introducing laptops with NFC installed so you can literally tap a business card and it uploads onto a device, testimony at just how far NFC is likely to grow.

We talked about the importance of wearables and how we, as a digital community, tend to merely talk about content marketing, PPC, SEO, etc. and don’t touch upon the likes of wearables. While we all agreed that wearables (and other NFC technology) would require a hefty amount of investment – there was discussion around agencies working on it collaboratively to achieve economies of scale. Collaborative investment could put Yorkshire agencies on the map as NFC innovators, which would benefit the region as a whole.

Food for thought

This Think Yorkshire roundtable event was a true pleasure to attend and chair. The many topics raised at the event gave us all food for thought about some of the most pertinent issues affecting the contemporary digital community. The business dinner also provided us with a fabulous opportunity to meet and share ideas with like-minded professionals and some of the most innovative digital thinkers in the region.

Huge thanks to Yorkshire Mafia for organising the event.

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