Are High Staff Attrition Rates
Holding Back Online Businesses?
The Candidate is a digital marketing recruitment company servicing the North West.
We match the right candidates with
the right positions. It’s that simple.
How do we do it?
Because our hard won expertise and years
of experience across both marketing and recruitment tells us the difference between the good,
the great and the best.
We specialise in identifying the best opportunities for candidates and the best candidates for
That we choose to work only with the best
defines us. It’s also the best way to align the
leading media, marketing and sales candidates
with the leading media, marketing and sales
For many online businesses, recruiting the right mix of people to
their in-house digital marketing team can make all the difference to
their bottom line. As the opportunities for different online revenue
streams develop through mobile, search and social media, businesses looking to make significant sales online need an increasing
combination of different skills, from web development and PPC, to
SEO and social media.
Following on from previous research undertaken by The Candidate
into the recruitment processes for digital agencies, we canvassed
a range of 200 online businesses about their HR and recruitment
processes, in order to build up a detailed picture of recruitment for
in-house roles in the North West of England.
The study found that most online businesses, defined by us for
this report as businesses taking at least 20% of revenue via online
channels, recruit a specialist digital role to their in-house team at
least once a year. The majority of this recruitment is to replace outgoing members of staff who have stayed in their role for less than
In the following report, we investigate some of the challenges that
online businesses face in recruiting and retaining top digital marketing professionals to work in their in-house teams, and ask whether
high turnover rates are holding back growth in the digital industries.
Huge staff attrition rate
of North West online
Staffing a Growth Industry
The digital sector is booming. In the North West, the industry is becoming a key player and is growing fast. Research by Manchester Digital highlights that digital content and ICT industries account for 45,800 jobs in the
Greater Manchester area and generate around £2bn
p.a. and this growth shows no sign of abating.
However, we also know that online businesses can face
a number of challenges when it comes to staffing an inhouse digital team:
Nationally, there are now more than 270,000 businesses
classed as ‘digital.’ It’s an exciting, dynamic and fastchanging sector, where new technologies and trends
can very quickly become game-changers.
• High turnover of staff and poor staff retention
Any business that seeks to drive revenue through online sales is likely to need either a digital agency, or an
in-house digital marketing team. The most successful
online businesses are those that understand the role of
digital marketing, value the creativity, skills and talents
of digital marketing professionals across a range of disciplines, and integrate their digital marketing planning
into strategy and business development.
• An acute shortage of staff who are trained and capable in online marketing (SEO, PPC, affiliate, social
media and analytics)
• ‘Poor’ nationwide provision of training courses on
• A shortage of higher education degrees in digital and
computer science courses
On average, candidates who are being
recruited into in-house digital roles are
remaining in their role for less than two
Our study confirmed that there are generally low retention levels for members of staff in digital marketing roles
in-house. Most businesses are recruiting for a specialist
digital role to their in house team at least once a year
– and the majority are replacing an outgoing staff member, not building a bigger team.
87% of recruitment is to service staff attrition, replacing
existing members of staff who leave.
So why are most digital professionals staying in these
in-house roles for less than two years?
Lack of professional development opportunities
Frustration with ‘slow-to-adapt’ businesses
Becoming ‘siloed’ in one particular sector
Desire to work at the cutting edge of developments
in digital marketing
• Quicker progression and better salaries elsewhere
87% of recruitment is to service staff attrition, replacing
existing members of staff who leave.
The study also confirmed that while most employers use
recruitment agencies to source potential candidates,
very few are using specialist digital marketing recruiters
to find the right candidates for digital roles, relying on
larger more general agencies with a lack of real specialist
The Digital Trend Race
Most businesses feel that they are “fairly up to date” or “very up to date”
with the latest digital trends.Some organisations are very proactive in
staying ahead of the curve. As part of our research, we asked a range of
businesses how they ensure they stay on top of digital developments and
take advantage of new opportunities.
Chris Dalrymple is
Head of eCommerce
at On The Beach
Describe your digital strategy in 3 words:
Agile, Mobile, Personalised.
Why would you say your digital strategy is ahead of the
curve in your sector?
At On the Beach, we’re able to move very quickly thanks to our
agile approach to marketing and technology. We can react to
industry changes, customer demands and market forces more
quickly than many businesses are able to.
We have a strong entrepreneurial culture, a lack of red tape or
politics, and a philosophy of embracing and testing new ideas.
Our focus on in-house technology means we can quickly develop
our ecommerce platform, without relying on external agencies.
What do you think the most exciting developments are in
digital marketing at the moment?
The shift to mobile and the need to understand the changing ways
in which customers use a combination of devices is very exciting.
This is especially true in the context of booking a holiday, where
they may interact with a brand over a number of weeks before
transacting. We’re well placed to understand how our customers’
behaviours have changed, and how we can best adapt our offering to take advantage.
What does your company do to make your workplace
appealing to the digital job market?
I think our culture is one of the most appealing aspects of working for On the Beach. We have a strong technology focus and
our agile approach means we can innovate quickly – something
really important for attracting digital candidates. We have a flat
structure and a lack of ceremony as well as a philosophy of building internally, and adopting early. I genuinely believe we have a
framework here that can allow digital experts to thrive.
71% per cent of the in-house recruiters we surveyed believe
that their business is up to date with the latest digital trends
– and we know from our experience that many businesses
have excellent strategies in place. But how accurate is this
perception of a notoriously fast-moving industry?
Feedback from the candidate marketplace shows that many
(67%) digital professionals do not agree that most businesses are
fully up to date with evolving developments in the digital industry
or have an up to date understanding of the different strands in
digital marketing. They are missing a trick, and this can be a problem when it comes to recruiting and retaining the best talent.
Digital professionals working in-house want to develop and maintain a high-level of industry expertise, which they can then put to
use on behalf of their employers. However, sometimes they are
not given the freedom or resources to innovate, or their expertise
in a relatively new sector is still not fully recognised and used by
The majority (73%) of candidates tell us that their perception is
that digital agencies are more up to date, and that working for an
agency with multiple clients in different sectors is the best way to
learn new insights and skills.
But for businesses which want to drive revenue through online
channels using an in-house team, attracting, developing and retaining the right digital professionals should be a significant part
of their strategy for growth.
Most employers (61%) believe that the salaries they offer
digital professionals are in-line or above the market value,
and that their employer brand is strong, making them attractive employers.
The reality is that salaries for in-house digital professionals are
often average compared to other roles, and while salaries are
often higher than agencies, they are not considered to be dramatically better or a great enough incentive to leave consultancy
Key roles and salary ranges:
£18,000 - £24,000
£16,000 - £20,000
£25,000 - £40,000
Social Media Manager
£24,000 - £28,000
Digital Marketing Manager
£25,000 - £35,000
Head of eCommerce
£40,000 - £60,000
However, the employer brand for many businesses is often
weaker than they think. There is still a perception among the
digital community that working in agency is the fastest way to
progress and learn new skills, and 67% of those surveyed said
that working in agency is more fun and social too.
How Do Agencies Ensure Their Internal
Cultures Make Them Good Employers?
We have a full-time member of staff, Lucy Barber, dubbed the
agency’s ‘director of love,’ whose role is to ensure theEword is a
comfortable and engaging environment for our team of 30 digital
specialists to work in. Benefits include monthly and annual bonus
schemes, free breakfast twice a week, weekly prize giveaways,
free cereal, fruit, coffee, tea and soft drinks every day, regular
company social events, games consoles in the breakout area
and the knowledge that the agency’s board and senior management are committed to employee happiness and wellbeing.
Working within the MediaCom iLab means staff get to work at the forefront of the digital landscape.
Internal training programmes are individually tailored to ensure team members are constantly pushing their skill set onwards and the Group M Search University calls on the likes of Google and Yahoo,
amongst others, to deliver training and insight sessions purely for Group M employees.
Outside of training the MediaCom iLab is a vibrant and fun place to work. We appreciate the need for
a balance between working hard and having fun and have a culture and environment which strikes a
good balance. We want to push our staff to achieve their maximum potential, but most importantly, we
want to make MediaCom an enjoyable place to work.
However, some online businesses are getting it right
To compete with the attractions of agencies like MediaCom and
theEword, the best online businesses also work hard to ensure
that they have a strong internal culture that makes them attractive
For example, Quintessential Finance in Macclesfield is a market
leading, technology-focused, finance solutions group who have
recently been awarded 3rd place in the Tech Track 100 for being
the 3rd fastest growing company in the North West.
They offer a range of employee benefits which include employee
of the month, free fruit, a social area with pool table, long service
awards, incentives for employee’s families, a discounted gym
scheme, and even brought an ice cream van on site last summer
to cool down their staff in the heat wave!
Employer Perception of the Candidate Market
Therefore, employers are finding it hard to locate, recruit
and retain the right candidates. And on average, the last
digital professional they recruited stayed in their role for
less than a year – a frustrating picture for HR managers.
The majority of businesses use advertising to recruit,
meaning that on the whole, candidates will be drawn from
those who are already job-hunting. Increasing numbers
are also turning to LinkedIn as an alternative method
of finding potential candidates. Few employers are currently taking advantage of proactive search and selection
to widen their recruitment processes to include potential
candidates who are employed elsewhere.
Trade shows are also under-utilised, but offer great networking opportunities, giving employers the chance to
meet and assess a wide range of potential candidates in
person, as well as increasing awareness of their business
brand among digital professionals.
Most of the businesses we surveyed indicated that it can
be challenging to find the right candidates for specialist
digital roles. A resounding 91 per cent of in-house employers think that skilled digital professionals are ‘scarce’ or
‘very scarce’ in the marketplace.
91% of in-house employers think that
skilled digital professionals are scarce
Are HR Departments too slow to attract the best
The speed of the recruitment process was highlighted by
many as a potential barrier to finding the right candidates,
with the majority (65%) of employers feeling that their HR
departments are too slow to react when roles become
available. The perception is that this leads organisations
to miss out on the top talent to smaller, more agile, digital
marketing agencies. However a number of other factors
in the process may be causing this slow perception which
must be addressed as part of the recruitment process.
All of those surveyed felt that specialist in-house digital
roles are missing out on the best candidates in this way.
While most of those surveyed used a recruitment agency,
only a very small minority used specialist digital marketing
recruiters to fill these specialist roles.
A majority of employers (67%) also felt that recruitment
agencies often failed to respond to their briefs for digital
roles accurately enough, perhaps indicating that some
non-specialist agencies lack the requisite industry knowledge to be able to locate and identify potential candidates.
Those who did use a specialist agency reported much
higher satisfaction levels with the candidates the agency
put forward. While it is good practice to brief one agency
per role, it makes sense for employers to have a portfolio
of recruiters who can be turned to when specialist roles
The research undertaken by The Candidate into in-house
digital recruitment in the North West confirms a number
of challenges for online businesses when it comes to recruiting for an in house team. Factors that come into play
include too few suitable candidates, a perceived lack of
professional development opportunities, and slow internal
However, it is the high staff attrition rate which could have
the biggest impact, both on the long term development of
the digital industry as a whole, and on individual businesses which are losing skilled members of their workforce.
But the bigger picture isn’t all negative. Increasingly, inhouse employers are viewing digital marketing as an important strand within their business strategy. As technology
develops and eCommerce becomes a significant revenue
stream for greater numbers of businesses, more and more
employers realise how important it is to get digital right.
Ever more SME’s are adapting their entire business plan
based on digital marketing strategies and options.
At The Candidate, we are working with growing numbers
of employers who are now building new in-house digital
marketing teams. Some are moving away from the agency model as this becomes a bigger part of their operations, whereas others are creating new digital teams from
scratch. To help employers through this process, we recently published a Digital Marketing Recruitment Guide,
which outlines the different roles which combine to create
an effective, integrated digital marketing team.
This growing demand means that currently there is a great
deal of scope for experienced candidates in roles with inhouse employers. If online businesses can work to ensure they keep up to date with industry developments, offer opportunities for digital professionals to keep personal
development on track and their skillset up-to-date, and
build a strong internal culture that attracts employees, they
will stand a greater chance of retaining staff members for
longer and building a highly skilled, motivated team that is
equipped to deliver the best results. And this can only be of
benefit to the digital industry as a whole.