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Adland has a talent problem. Emphasis on tech and analytical roles can solve it

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By Sam Bradley, Journalist

August 31, 2023 | 5 min read

This week, we ask a clutch of top leaders judging The Drum's Agency Business Awards how the ad business can market itself better to new talent.

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How can the ad business communicate the width and breadth of roles offered in today’s agencies? / Unsplash

We know agencies have trouble attracting young talent into the industry. And there’s a range of factors to blame – pay, education in the UK and US, and lack of flexibility are just a few.

A survey released in August by specialist university Ravensbourne University London found that 19% of 18-year-olds wanted to work in advertising and marketing. That’s promising. But it came with a sting in the tail. According to the survey, most of those young people weren’t aware that particularly in-demand roles, such as UX or VFX specialists, have a place in the industry. Perhaps if more of them were aware that one might become a data scientist or developer, more young people would be up for joining the industry.

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So, what can agencies do to change those perceptions? Does it come down to selling the sector more effectively, or would another tack yield a greater improvement?

To discuss those questions, we went to three of the judges for The Drum’s Agency Business Awards – and asked for their take on the issue.

How do you solve a problem like… advertising advertising?

Ben Scoggins, chief executive officer, Organic: “There is an irony for the advertising industry, which is that it has done an appalling job of promoting itself. There needs to be a concerted effort to educate and engage students and those entering the workplace, but that comes hand-in-hand with finding creative solutions to improve flexible working provision and ‘work/life balance’ in an industry famed for burnout and long office-based hours. Perhaps just as importantly, though, there needs to be an increased awareness of how the sector has evolved and fragmented and what roles and opportunities are available for talented new joiners. There has to be a greater emphasis not just the creative side but also the sought-after tech-driven, analytical roles too.”

Emily Chang, chief executive officer for North America (West), Wunderman Thompson: “After over two decades working on the client side, I love my job in the agency world. First, I love the breadth of industries and work we get to engage in. This is a place where truly, we get to work on the opportunities we earn. And our own passion is the only limitation to building and exercising new skills.

“And the daily work is All. About. People. There’s no condiment, store, or technological product. Instead, we get the people we earn by being great managers and creating a culture of positivity, inspiration, and challenge. If I’d known this earlier, I may have made the transition earlier.”

Ashley Cooksley, The Social Element: “Attracting young talent can be challenging, especially since the way they define their jobs’ place in their lives is changing. So not only do we need to ensure they understand the opportunities, they also have to clearly understand what they get in return. This insight is key when recruiting new talent. Knowing that they place a special value on a culture of respect and acceptance of diversity, it’s important to let them know that this is something we’re constantly championing throughout our industry.

“Making sure that they’re aware of mentorship and training programs we have in place for ongoing education, and importantly, a leadership program can put their minds at ease that they will get the guidance they need to be successful. Additionally, stating the career path for each role is important. They may not know to connect the dots between their entry role and a role two or three steps down the path. For instance, our entry roles include Engagement and Social Media Specialist roles. These roles can progress into strategists, content creators, and insights analysts, but that may not be obvious from the outset.”

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