Lynchpin's Andrew Hood and Specsavers' James Saukinsey discuss data on stage at Econsultancy Live April 2023.
James Saukinsey, Head of Digital Analytics at Specsavers, talks to Andrew Hood, CEO and founder of analytics consultancy Lynchpin.

In January, the 2023 Marketing Week Career and Salary Survey found that more than a third (34.4%) of marketers identified data and analytics as a significant skills gap within their organisation, making it the biggest marketing skills gap for the second year in a row.

The question of how to tackle marketing’s various skills gaps through effective recruitment, retention and upskilling has been a major subject of discussion within the industry for several years – one that became all the more urgent in the wake of the pandemic-prompted ‘Great Resignation’.

At Econsultancy Live: April 2023, James Saukinsey, Head of Digital Analytics at Specsavers, sat down with Andrew Hood, founder and CEO of independent analytics consultancy Lynchpin, to discuss the brand’s approach to analytics and how Specsavers future-proofs its strategy. During the conversation, Saukinsey reflected on how his team has tackled recruitment for a highly in-demand skillset, as well as how his perspective on data skills has changed in the wake of Google rolling out Google Analytics 4.

Finding data and analytics talent amid high demand and low supply

At Specsavers, Saukinsey is responsible for looking after the group digital analytics and technical SEO teams, who ensure that the websites are tracked and tagged appropriately, carry out reporting and analysis to understand customer behaviour, and optimise Specsavers’ websites for crawling by search engines.

Since he began his career in data more than 20 years ago, Saukinsey observed how much data and analytics demand has grown: “With the fast-paced world that we live in, with Covid, with everything else – the need for good-quality data and people to understand and interpret it has just grown massively over the years.”

We’ve been remote-first as a team since long before Covid

He added that recruiting for skilled data and analytics professionals is “challenging, definitely” thanks to the disparity between the level of demand and the level of supply. In addition to this, there is a lack of local digital talent in the area where Specsavers is based (Guernsey), meaning that the team has long been accustomed to casting a wide net when recruiting. “We very early on realised that we weren’t going to be able to recruit people locally, so we’ve been remote-first as a team since long before Covid,” said Saukinsey.

“And that has helped, certainly, with looking for the right talent, rather than location.”

Saukinsey’s team have also begun focusing their job descriptions on transferrable skills, rather than ‘hard’ skills, such as experience with a particular tool. Another discovery that Saukinsey related was that handling recruitment directly, rather than through HR or an external recruitment agency, returns a much higher calibre of candidate.

“It is incredibly time-consuming and painful doing the hunting on LinkedIn yourself,” he acknowledged. “But being approached by the hiring manager seems to make a lot of difference in terms of the candidate’s willingness to engage.”

He also noted that Specsavers has just started putting salary bands in its job descriptions – “which shouldn’t be strange or unusual, but it is. So, it’ll be interesting to see how that will play out.”

A changing perspective on data skills

During their conversation, Saukinsey and Hood also discussed in detail Specsavers’ adoption of Google Analytics 4, and considered how the advent of the tool has changed the overall data landscape for marketers.

“There’s always going to be a need for a tool to capture data about user behaviour online, but with the way that Google have approached GA4 and rolled it out, it may potentially have started the demise of the GA interface to an extent,” said Saukinsey. “So, Google [Analytics] becomes a data collection tool, but then the data is surfaced elsewhere into a data lake and then into a different data visualisation tool.”

The types of people we’re going to look for in the future will probably be people with slightly broader skillsets…

Saukinsey added that this trend may have been in progress anyway given the increasing importance of joining up online and offline journeys, but Google’s rollout of Google Analytics 4 accelerated things slightly. This has impacted the way that he plans to approach recruitment for data skills in future: “The types of people we’re going to look for in the future will probably be people with slightly broader skillsets – less focused solely on GA and technical skills like that, and more around general data visualisation and data engineering skills.”

Andrew Hood also noted that the push towards BigQuery with Google Analytics 4 has shifted the skillset needed to work with GA “quite dramatically”: “If you want to get the real power out of this product, all of a sudden, you need to be a SQL programmer – and that’s very different from how digital analytics roles have been traditionally crafted. So, that goes back to what you were saying about [the importance of] transferrable skills.”

However, while different tools and tech stacks can undeniably have an impact on the way that data teams carry out their work, Saukinsey’s parting advice was not to get too “hung up on” tools. “It’s never about the tool – it’s always about how you’re going to understand the business you’re in, and value with whatever tool you’re using.

“Ultimately, it won’t be about the tool: it’ll be about the people, and the techniques, and the insights.”

Explore Econsultancy’s Data & Analytics Deep Dive learning channel to add to your data & analytics skillset.