Why are advertising agencies having a hard time finding talented people to work for them? Once upon a time, ad agencies had people beating down their doors. Many of the industry-famous shops still do. Yet, according to Campaign US, the talent crunch is pushing agencies to lean on staffing and recruitment firms and, in some cases, to cut back on the amount of work they take on.
Digiday recently asked an anonymous agency executive what agencies might do to become more competitive in this environment?
It’s difficult. There’s competition from all sides. I don’t have a good answer for that. But something has to change.
This non-answer leaves my colleague Dan Goldgeier wanting.
I’d be curious to know if this “holding company agency exec” has any idea about how to apply for a job at their agency, or who’s been applying, or how applicants get filtered, or their interview process, or the salaries being offered. https://t.co/gALutExpys via @digiday
— Dan Goldgeier (@DanGoldgeier) August 12, 2021
Dan is right to point to the broken process. The exec admits that something has to change, but isn’t prepared to say what exactly must change.
The reality is we must change the mechanics of recruitment and rid ourselves of any lingering mental blocks that are weak barriers to progress. For instance, if you or anyone in your agency is unwilling to consider hiring exceptionally talented (but sometimes irascible) people over 40, or God forbid, over 50, then there’s something seriously wrong that needs to be addressed today.
How One Recruiter Sees the Problem
In the latest edition of Recruiter’s Corner from The Drum, Norm Yustin, who leads Russell Reynolds Associates’ global Customer Activation and Growth Practice, discusses five key changes that agencies ought to make in order to attract and retain fresh talent. His second point is one I agree with wholeheartedly.
Agencies need to be willing to accept the ‘bomb throwers’… The big challenge is not finding innovative, amazing people. It’s whether the agency ecosystem will adapt and change fast enough culturally. It’s an acceptance of a new way of doing things which is very threatening, scary and human. I have a lot of empathy for people who go through it, [but] there’s a lot of cultural transformation that has to happen at agencies.
I agree with his thinking but I would change the term ‘bomb thrower’ to something more benign and productive. When a so-called ‘bomb’ is thrown by a brave team member, it’s not meant to explode and ruin, it’s more like fireworks, which are meant to illuminate and dazzle.
Creative People Are Not Good Sheeple
Sadly, the remnants of 20th-century corporate culture are still firmly in place in many agencies today. Top-down management and systems meant to control might work on the client-side, but they weaken an agency’s ability to innovate.
When people learn to obey, to defer to power, and to follow the boss’s lead no matter what, you don’t have a creative company, you have a flock of sheep. The good thing about sheep is they can be sheared for their wool. Writers, designers, and technologists, on the other hand, keep their best ideas inside. It’s up to agency owners and managers and smart clients to make way for these voices and the valuable new ideas they bring.
When agency management is scared to challenge clients or their own internal B.S., they’re frozen in amber.
Clients come to agencies for ideas that will help them become rich and famous. When a client says with a straight face, “We want to be like Apple,” ad pros laugh, but it’s an insight into what clients desire. They don’t want just another cool commercial, they want to become rich and famous. I make this point to support another. Sheeple don’t help clients or their agency achieve anything but more billings. To achieve greatness in advertising or any other field, it takes brave, emotionally intelligent, and interesting people who care.