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Talent Generation X Cindy Gallop

The new rules of attraction: How Adland can attract and retain talent in the age of The New Creativity

By Catherine Turner



recruitment article

October 1, 2014 | 9 min read

There was a time when all advertising agencies had to do to find new talent was sit back and wait for the portfolios to pile up on their doorstep. But those days are gone. Lured by The New Creativity, today’s entrepreneurial millennials are just as likely to see their futures in trendy tech firms or even their own start-ups as they are ad agencies. As the battle to attract – and retain – the best young minds intensifies, Catherine Turner finds out how agencies are fighting back against this new era brain drain.

For an industry whose output is creativity and has a modus operandi of embracing the fresh and new, there is often little such originality to be seen in how it operates internally. Nowhere, perhaps, is this more true than in the hiring – and keeping – of talent.

Agency executives have long since accepted the drain of graduate talent to the lure of the City and its financial reward.

Today, the giant tech companies offer both the big paypacket and the cache of creativity – with perks Adland can only dream of. “The people we’re fighting for talent aren’t the professionals any more,” says Ben Bilboul, group chief executive of Karmarama.

“We’re competing against the techs, the start-ups, even their own start-ups – for those who aspire to be on the cover of Wired.”

He believes too many agencies are running as they did 20 years ago, while today’s twentysomethings are wired to work completely differently. No longer is a job for life. “Generation Z tend to be more entrepreneurial,” he says; they’ve grown up building their own business or writing a blog.

“It’s harder to tell a new starter they’re going to be at the photocopier for a month.” Nancy Hill, president and CEO of the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A’s) concurs.

“The Millennial generation don’t want to do things the same way we did. They want a collection of experiences, but agencies aren’t structured that way. They want to make things, have an impact, they want to change the world. And they’re less likely to feel they owe their employees something.”

Hill cites examples of agency initiatives trying to reach this illusive generation, such as letting employees spending up to 25 per cent of their time on their own projects; agencies acting as ideas incubators and helping them launch.

“Right now, everyone is trying different things and nobody knows what’s going to work.” Karmarama is amongst those attempting to attract and develop “creative entrepreneurs”, and Bilboul outlines two schemes aiming to do just that.

The first, Kid, is geared towards junior employees and gives them a “disproportionate amount of responsibility” for clients who might not otherwise afford a Karmarama retainer.

Krank is its investment in the intellectual property space. Employees present ideas, with a headline business plan, to a panel. If backed, they get as much as a 50 per cent stake in the business. A year on from launch, Krank is beta-testing several apps, including one with a national cafe chain, and has launched Two Fingers Brewing Co, a beer brand that gives all of its profits to Prostate Cancer UK.

An app launched through Krank

Krank appeals to all ages (though not, perhaps, to everyone, a balancing act the agency is aware of respecting) and demonstrates a wider concern of how to attract not just graduates but those further up the agency chain and how to keep them both in the business and industry at large.

It’s a malaise that led to the 4A’s hosting the industry’s first talent leadership conference, held in August this year. The event, Talent@2030, aimed to start a bold and candid dialogue about the state of talent in advertising, says Hill.

A survey conducted by the association in 2011 showed that 30 per cent of employees planned to leave their agencies while “virtually nobody” would encourage friends to join the business. “We knew there was a problem we had to address”, she says. “We wanted to put this issue front and centre.

In attendance was Hilary Lee, chief of staff at Seattle-based Creature, who says the conference opened eyes to the need to embrace a new world order in recruiting and keeping talent.

“Until recently we all felt confident in our abilities to manage staffing at creative agencies and the thought of exposing our way of thinking, our secret formula so to speak, to a competitive collective was absolutely deplorable,” Lee says.

“However, it’s pretty obvious that we need to collaborate in order to remain competitive. There was much talk about the need to align ourselves so that our industry doesn’t grow irrelevant and archaic amongst the growing generation of tech savvy creatives.”

UK agencies are also looking at how they can change workplaces for the better, says Zoe Osmond, (outgoing) chief executive of Nabs, the industry funded support service for those in advertising and media.

Yet more must be done, she adds, citing stress, pressure and wellbeing in the workplace and helping working parents as key themes the society is targeting.

She says: “This is an industry where there’s lots of pressure. People feeling more pressure than a few years ago, be it through hiring freezes, or technology blurring the lines between work and home.”

Expectations to succeed are much greater and there also needs to be more value placed on experience. “It’s essential to have lots of talent and fresh thinking but that can’t compensate for experience,” continues Osmond. “In our industry grey hair is not particularly valued.”

How can ad agencies hook the new talent?

A Nabs survey this year found that 85 per cent of parents said they felt guilty at work or home when trying to balance the professional and personal. And one in 10 had to quit their jobs because of the pressures that come with being a working parent.

Nabs works with industry partners to provide advice and training, as well as one-to-one coaching, grants for the unemployed to gain new skills and mindfulness training.

Mindfulness came to the fore in May this year when Arianna Huffington called on the media and marketing industries to end the “collective delusion that burnout is the way to succeed” at the launch a series of workshops run by HuffPost UK to encourage wellbeing in the media workplace.

It’s something that Starcom MediaVest Group has been doing for more than three years now, and one that Liz Nottingham, regional HR director for Western Europe, credits with creating a happier – and more productive – workforce. One in five employees believes mindfulness sessions have also helped them perform to their highest standards. Its programme for parents, developed closely with the IPA, has also borne fruit. “We’ve had feedback to say they’ve transformed family life,” Nottingham says.

Since joining the group just over six years ago Nottingham and her team have been introducing one “big, bold” initiative a year – a hard sell to both management and staff in the early days.

“When I came here we had a fairly standard learning and development programme – core skills, negotiation, presentation and so on. There was nothing aspirational, or inspirational.” This led to the Academy, which has now run 16 times and is an active driver for people considering their careers with Starcom MediaVest.

“It was a complete culture shock for our people, and we had to be very, very bold to stick to our programme. People were telling us it was absolutely awful – but it’s now accepted as a big part of our DNA. That was the start of our journey, pushing boundaries, opening minds.”

The group also stages inspirational talks and yoga retreats and partners with Central St Martins art school to encourage creativity throughout the business.

Also on the agenda is a female development programme, which helps women in the workplace deal with conflict and how to say ‘no’ and a series teaching Generation Xers how to relate to Y-Generation needs.

Another is aimed at women who have been out of the workplace for five years and giving them the skills, knowledge and confidence to return to the industry. It is not limited to those who either have worked or want to work for the agency as Nottingham sees it as important for the industry at large to re-embrace lost talent.

She further calls on those who have either cut or frozen training and development budgets to reconsider, and to think in a more creative way: “If you don’t invest in anyone they will go. If you do, you’re also benefiting the business.”

Concludes Nottingham: “Get it right and they’ll join you because of it, and then they’ll stay because of it.”

This feature was first published in The Drum's 1 October issue, guest-edited by Cindy Gallop and focused on the theme of The New Creativity.

Talent Generation X Cindy Gallop

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Karmarama is the UK’s most progressive creative agency, now part of Accenture Interactive.Its services include advertising, direct and digital marketing, digital...

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