Outsource to avoid scrapping for talent this annual report season

Mark Hannant  •  October 2021

Staff shortages are making headlines

A lack of lorry drivers has caused a supply chain crunch in the UK. The so-called Great Resignation is accelerating in the USA. The skills gap is less visible, but most acute, in the technology world where lack of talent is seen as a great inhibitor of new technology adoption.

When we hear about seasonal work, we often think about retail and agriculture and other manual work. But other industries have cyclical trends too. Creative agencies experience it: seasonal advertising and the annual reporting period are obvious examples, and both require extra manpower to be plugged into ‘the studio’.

In London last month I met agency bosses gearing up for the forthcoming reporting season. Public companies— of which there are more than 1,000 listed on the London Stock Exchange—are required to produce a yearly update for shareholders on financial and operational matters. It’s a staple of many agencies’ calendars. (And, sadly for some corporations, the one time each year that they engage in a creative discussion, but that’s a topic for another blog).

Reporting season is a frantic often stressful time for agencies.

Reporting is a multi-task activity

Financial reporting is a specialist business. A report contains many sections, each with its own guidelines, regulations, and schedules. Many tasks must be completed, and lots of different people with different skills are needed.

There is powerful storytelling at the front of a report, requiring high levels of creativity, tons of copywriting, and visual communications that express an intimate knowledge of the brand. The back has the detailed presentation of the report and accounts where accuracy and data security are paramount. Information is presented in various forms; narrative, tabular, graphic, and will be checked many times. Given the sensitive nature of the material there’s no room for error. In between there are the directors’ report and strategy and governance sections. Many companies now use the statutory report as a vehicle for other data for example around their Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) or Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) performance. The list of approvers will seem endless.

An annual report is a major undertaking.

Rates spike as demand rises

Traditionally studios have relied on a pool of freelancers who step in for several months to plough through huge volumes of page layout and other production and premedia tasks. That freelance pool is finite. This year it seems it’s more of a puddle. I heard agency bosses and production directors complain about competing against each other for a limited number of qualified technicians and finding it difficult to ramp up to meet the peak. Day rates spike just as clients’ demands reach their crescendo and, having had a whole year to get ready, they try and concertina months’ worth of work into a handful of weeks. (Another blog!)

Part of the solution lies in rethinking the activities that go into producing a report. By breaking down the activity into individual tasks—creating templates, building style guides, extracting data, making charts and graphs, rolling over last year’s numbers, laying out pages, checking proofs, editing images, balancing colours, packaging files—and dividing the report into its constituent sections, an agency can look at what it needs to do in-house as part of its core offering and what it can outsource to external specialist providers.

At Indigo Premedia we’ve created a simple matrix that lets a production director see what they’d like to keep in-house and what they’d like to outsource.

‘Lift and shift’

This ‘taskification’ enables a more dynamic approach to resourcing. Some work must stay close to home. It’s part of the agency’s DNA and key to its value proposition. Other tasks can be ‘lifted’ from the workflow, ‘shifted’ to an outsource partner and then slotted back in later in the schedule.

Outsourcing offers cost and operational benefits to agencies. When production and premedia work is outsourced, the agency can focus on the areas of creativity and brand guardianship where it adds most value. It can access a deep pool of talent not constrained by its geographic proximity to the studio. That resource can be tapped on-demand, so the costs are variable not fixed and if the talent is in a lower cost market, there is wage arbitrage. There are added benefits to the time difference. A studio in India is half a day ahead, so a London studio can add a half day to its production capacity.

As autumn draws in and the reporting season looms, we’d love to discuss how we can help you solve the challenge of the annual talent gap.

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