Our industry is now engaged in a so-called “war for talent” that is being positioned by many ad agency folks as a crisis. Agencies are competing for talent not just with each other, but with tech companies, consultants, Wall Street and leading marketers who are creating their own in-house teams. Talent is in high demand, and young, gifted recruits have more options than ever.
And while it’s true that finding great talent is an ongoing challenge for agencies, I don’t believe it’s reached the crisis proportions that seem to be causing panic at many shops. In fact, I believe we’re in an exciting, revolutionary phase that is forcing agencies to be more creative and innovative than any time in our industry’s history.
Today’s talent pool is looking for a much richer and more rewarding job experience–not just a paycheck. They want to compete on a noble, challenging and exciting battleground that not only lets them exercise their skills, but also offers an opportunity for growth and new experiences.
And therein lies the opportunity for agencies. This scenario should be viewed and embraced as an excellent opening for agencies to reinvent themselves and step up their game.
More than ever, an agency’s brand, leadership, and culture have more of an impact to potential employees. Compensation—where competitive salaries are now table stakes—is no longer the primary factor in why young talent takes a job. That means the door is finally open to small, independent agencies that don’t have deep pockets to compete with the big network shops.
Here are five things today’s creative class are looking for from current and future employers. Carried out correctly, these suggestions will help agencies win the war on talent without sacrificing their bottom line.
• Do meaningful work: Partner only with clients and brands that possess a true sense of passion and purpose. Allow everyone to contribute significantly to the work and see how it can impact business and culture in the real world. Empower teams and individuals to lead and make decisions. Embrace meritocracy; a good idea can come from anyone–from a summer intern to the ECD.
• Provide growth opportunities: Let your people know what you expect of them, offer a clear blueprint for advancement, and help them move up the ladder. Provide access to training, mentorship, and new, challenging work experiences. Replace antiquated (and typically ineffective) annual performance reviews with a virtuous cycle of continuous and constructive performance feedback. Foster a culture of curiosity and learning. Support experimentation and failure—it’s one of the best ways to learn.
• Rally the troops: Agency leadership needs to inspire. You must articulate your company’s vision and help everyone see how they can help get the company where it wants to go. Set challenging yet attainable goals and provide the path to achieve them. Motivate people to keep reaching for greatness, and challenge them to be better than yesterday. Encourage free thinking, innovation and creativity.
• Create a positive work environment: A well-designed, comfortable, and creative space can inspire collaboration and great work. Create a variety of work spaces that are conducive not only for focused, individual work but for teamwork and group efforts as well. Invest in your office’s infrastructure and technology. Let the natural light pour in, the Starbucks (and Heineken) flow, and the ping-pong balls bounce. All these elements come together to create an environment that people want to work in.
• Show the love: If you expect your staff to give you their best work, you need to give your best, too. Trust, respect, transparency and autonomy build long-lasting, strong, healthy relationships. And be flexible. A healthy work-life balance is important, especially to young employees who are juggling childcare, yoga class, and happy hour along with their typical 50-hour work week. Flexible schedules, unlimited PTO, remote work options and sabbaticals are just a few of the benefits that can help them feel the love from their employer.