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Major multinationals identify emerging skills gaps on AI, programmatic and IoT

Performance lags priority on digital integration and e-commerce

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A new study by the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) and marketing training experts Circus Street has highlighted concerns among multinational marketers that they won’t be able to recruit the experts they need in the years to come. The most critical areas include AI predictive modelling, programmatic marketing and the Internet of Things.

Artificial Intelligence was cited as the main area of concern by 73% of respondents, who predict a serious gap in company knowledge and capability in the future. Other areas of concern included their ability to develop in-house resource which can trade media programmatically (62%) and have the skills to manage the Internet of Things (52%). Data privacy and AR/VR were also highlighted as skills where companies had concerns about their ability to recruit.

The study is based on responses from 22 multinationals in WFA membership with more than $25bn in annual global marketing spend.

The skills gaps identified are critical as brands consider the new technologies that they think are most likely to have an impact on their business as well as current challenges around data and programmatic that are already exposing them to risks such as ad fraud.

The WFA and Circus Street study also highlights areas where marketers recognise that their current performance is not as good as it should be, with the biggest gaps between priority and performance occurring in digital integration and e-commerce.

82% said digital integration was one of the highest areas of priority – ranking 4.4 out of 5 overall – where 5 is a top priority – but 41% said performance ranked in the lowest category (1 or 2).

For e-commerce, there was a gap of one point, while participants also mentioned relevant gaps in marketing innovation and turning data into strategic insights.

By contrast, 91% of respondents ranked brand position as a high priority but no one listed it as an area of low performance.

When the WFA last conducted research in this area in 2014, marketers named e-commerce, CRM and Shopper/POS marketing as key gaps in delivery. Digital integration was only fourth.

“A changing marketing landscape is creating new challenges for the large multinationals in WFA membership and they need additional skills relating to newer disciplines such as data analytics. Whether that talent is sourced internally or externally, clear marketing capabilities programmes are a vital part of managing resource and demonstrate how central teams are investing in their people,” said Rob Dreblow, Head of Marketing Services at the WFA.

“This survey supports what we at Circus Street have learned from working with some of world’s biggest global brands and marketing teams. The pace of change within our industry is steadily accelerating, and it’s clear that digital transformation is not a one-time thing, but rather requires that we build organisations that can continue to roll with the punches,” said Richard Townsend, CEO at Circus Street. “Successful businesses will be the ones that can provide their entire workforce with the skills they need to operate in the digital world, from the mailroom all the way to the boardroom, and this is something that will need to continue long after initial ‘digital transformation’ objectives have been achieved. It’s therefore critical that CMOs consider the most scalable and accessible approaches to improving digital capability.”

Other key findings include:

  • 60% of respondents feel they have “world-class marketing teams” compared to 46% who agreed with this statement in the WFA’s 2014 research.
  • The vast majority (68%) are still not measuring progress in this area. In 2014, the WFA found that just 29% of marketers have KPIs in place to track their investment in capability development.
  • Respondents said the most useful external partners for driving marketing capability programmes were consultancies focused on capabilities (68%), followed by media owners with whom client-side marketers have strategic partnerships (63%).
  • P&G is perceived as best in class when it comes to marketing capability development, with Unilever at No. 2 and Apple and Google sharing the third spot. The top three from 2014 were P&G, Unilever and Nestle in second place and Diageo and The Coca-Cola Company in third.

The research was conducted for the WFA’s IMC Forum of client-side marketers looking to address integrated marketing challenges. The forum currently has around 600 members and will hold its next meeting in London in March.


About WFA

The World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) is the voice of marketers worldwide, representing 90% of global marketing communications spend – roughly US$900 billion per annum – through a unique, global network of the world’s biggest markets and biggest marketers. WFA’s champions responsible and effective marketing communications worldwide. More information at


About Circus Street

Circus Street creates world-class media and marketing training: delivering engaging online programmes that allow organisations and their clients to keep up to speed with the rapid evolution in marketing. Circus Street is used by many of the world’s largest media and marketing organisations as well as major multinational businesses and brands. More information at

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