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Recruiter’s Corner: it’s time to move past recycled talent in adland

The same candidates for the same C-suite roles will only yield the same results

With demand outpacing supply and client needs changing by the minute, agencies are faced with urgent challenges when it comes to staffing up. In this edition of Recruiter’s Corner, Russell Reynolds Associates managing director Norm Yustin discusses the five key changes adland needs to make in order to attract and retain fresh talent.

1. Agencies need to look outside the industry for C-suite talent. “The biggest ask we get is more diversity at the top. We just mapped the whole market for a major agency CEO search. Of all of the global agency CEOs, most are white males. It’s almost startling. The agency wanted to bring in more diversity, but it was very hard because they wanted an established CEO. But they also wanted fresher ideas... I’ve proposed creative solutions and it’s scary [for clients.] They say, ‘[the candidate] needs to know our business and there is a nuance to our business and they need that creative edge.’ So, there’s 100 reasons why not to hire someone from a different background. But the only other solution is you’ve got this same group of non-diverse people, over and over again, in every single search. It’s all recycled talent.”

2. Agencies need to be willing to accept the ‘bomb throwers’. “There is an age old trend where agencies try to bring in all types of different talent and then spit them out. I call it ‘this too shall pass’. It’s just: ‘I’m going to do my thing and let this chief digital officer that’s coming into the agency to try and make us digital, flame out.’ They are the ones who have the legacy client relationships and will just hunker down into their P&L until they survive 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.”

3. Agencies need to get compensation right. “Agencies pay certain people exceptionally well and then pay everybody else under market. There are very few people ‘at market’ in agencies. They either overpaid or underpaid. They’ve got to figure out the pay disparity. I’m not saying the big dogs shouldn’t be paid a lot. It’s not about that. It’s about putting long-term planning in place for the others. [Other industries] are way better at pay grades. It’s very functional like: ’We’re going to move you up and you’ll know exactly how much money you can make.’ At agencies, [younger staff] will jump around for another $5,000 not because it’s necessarily the right career move but because it will be meaningful for making a car payment.”

4. Agencies need to serve as advisors to their clients. “The role of the CMO is more impactful than ever before. They’re not being leaned on to create marketing. Instead, they are saying to agencies, ‘tell us about the customer. Where are they going? How do we change our business to be able to impact the customer?’ The new normal is a hilarious statement because honestly nothing is normal and everything is new. Just look at teens and shopping. They could care less if they ever went in a store again as long as they live. How are agencies helping clients think about that? How do they help them engage with customers the right way with the right platforms? For agencies, it’s now ‘how do we help your business’ versus ‘what are you doing with your marketing?’ Do agencies have the advisory talent to be able to make the quick call? It may not be a million dollar McKinsey project, it’s somewhere in between to really help a client solve a big meaty problem.”

5. Agencies need to dial up the flexibility and the heart. ”There will always be magic at agencies. The creative environment, culture and ability to offer flexible working is a huge asset for hiring better talent. Some talent from the client slide, or from different industries, might not want to go back to a traditional work structure. If agencies can allow people to bring their whole self to work in a manner that works for them, they will have a leg up. We always say people choose jobs by balancing head, heart and wallet. Because of the pandemic, the heart side, and how I feel about my job and the people around me, is consistently coming up as a top reason why people are choosing to move. If agencies can attract that heart side and make people feel like they’re doing great work with people they like in a way that suits their lifestyle, it can be a huge win.”

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