agency knowledge

How COVID Revealed The Gaps In Our Knowledge Development, And Why We’re All Better For It

Gaps in agency knowledge have been exposed. Helen Johnson shares our findings.

One of our industry’s great strengths is adapting to changing requirements: client requirements, different competitors, the constantly changing media landscape. And 2020 has served up plenty of changing requirements for us to adapt to.

I’ve spoken to clients who have struggled emotionally. Some have found the experience terrifying,
some boring, some exhilarating, some are full of anxiety about when they will next see loved ones overseas. I too, have felt all these things at some point during the last 6 months. And through all this, agency leaders have needed to keep their teams motivated, engaged and delivering the same quality of work that their clients expect.

The Problem with Relying on Technology

For many agencies, platforms were already in place to allow them to technically achieve the change. Cloud-based architectures have kept files, processes, collaboration and projects ticking along. If this had happened ten years ago, we may have been in a very different situation.

agency knowledge
Online collaboration, more important than ever

We have evolved with our technology. Maybe without even realizing it. And that’s the problem. COVID has vastly increased the reliance on technology; our project and financial management systems need to be a reliable source of self-service information.

Waiting for a monthly reporting pack just won’t cut it for the speed projects need to move at any longer. And so during COVID, the lack of accurate, real-time, business information at an agency’s fingertips has become much more apparent. All of this has shone a light on a very specific gap that has always been there: training.

Learning, Learning, Learning

Now that we can’t tap a colleague on a shoulder for some help, or walk across and ask a question, how do we continue to better develop agency knowledge and skills in the more commercial and operational aspects of the agency business?

With Zoom fatigue being a very real challenge, and a hundred unread threads on your slack channel, an ad hoc approach is not the best option. Agency folk are expected to learn by collaboration, ask colleagues, share ideas, attend conferences. For many topics this works well; if I need to be inspired, then a good book, Ted Talk or great conversation could do the trick. But what about some of those more technical skills that so often get left on the shelf?

Agency Knowledge
Not another meeting - photo by Chris Montgomery

Evolving Knowledge and Skills Development

The gap in evolving some of these skills, that historically many agencies haven’t focused on developing, is much more apparent when we are all in separate buildings, trying to get answers from our management systems.

In particular commercial skills, project management skills, financial acumen. In particular the training we need to use these technologies – the ones that help us scope work and deliver projects on time and budget.

Historically, and particularly in our market, we rely on everyone knowing the same shortlist of incumbent technologies. This creates a very real risk of assuming that people know how to manage operations through these systems. No disrespect meant to those incumbent technologies! Even on those platforms, I have sat next to finance staff who aren’t sure exactly where numbers are coming from. If that’s the case, how can the account and project management teams, who negotiate budgets, review costs, and accurately scope costs and time with clients, be expected to hold their own?

Of course, I’m generalizing. We work with some brilliant agencies who have recognized these challenges and put things in place to address them. They have taken this opportunity to set up robust and ongoing operational training programs and internal skills development platforms. They have put in place resources that cater to different learning styles, and different platforms and have created programs that will thoroughly induct new team members on their processes.

Those that have developed WFH friendly initiatives will certainly continue past COVID to better equip their staff in the future. But what about those who haven’t? What about those who still have staff members at home, frantically scrolling through figures and tabs?

agency knowledge
Working from home, the new normal - photo by Green Chameleon

What can Agency Leaders do Today to Set-Up these Critical Skills for the Future?

Recognize different people learn differently

  • Learning happens in a multitude of different ways and is a very personal characteristic. A learning program needs to provide variety. From documenting the way you work, providing training documentation for those that learn by reading and conducting live training for new employees. Provide refresher training for existing employees, and those that learn through discussion. Provide online learning, for those who like to get stuck in. And provide dedicated time for people to ask questions, for those that learn by giving it a go and then asking all they feel they missed. An ad hoc Q&A option in your collaborative work platform is a great way to do this. Or assign someone to be nominated as the expert to answer these questions.

Make training part of peoples’ job roles

  • Just because someone has come from a similar agency, or has used the same tool, doesn’t mean you can skip the teaching aspect.
  • Leverage the knowledge of your best people and task them with being a part of your agency’s learning and development platform.

It’s not a one-off

  • Just like creative, strategy or code skills- project management, management technology and commercial skills don’t just get learnt once and then known. Agency knowledge and skills are developed through time, experience and changing circumstances. So, put ongoing programs in place that develop and grow these skills.

Whilst COVID might have exposed the gaps in our knowledge, acknowledging the problem is the first
step to moving forward. Our working landscape is not a fixed point. We have to be willing to learn, to adapt and to grow in order to effectively manage our projects, clients and budgets.

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Helen Johnson
+61 404 458 797


Christian Arpe-Hansen
+45 31 36 66 03