The Future of Work Agency Advice Work & Wellbeing

How do you solve a problem like... recruiting outside the industry talent pool?


By Sam Bradley, Journalist

September 28, 2021 | 11 min read

Each week, we ask agency experts for their advice on real problems facing today’s marketing practitioners. This week, we asked our readers how they’re working to recruit from outside the industry talent pool.

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How can agencies better reach out to recruits outside the typical talent pool?

In the UK, the closure of The Watford Course means the end of another channel for non-university talent to enter the industry – but this is not a problem exactly limited to Britain. Agency Team Lewis has landed on one solution – dropping the requirement for a CV in job applications. What else can agencies do to attract recruits from outside the typical talent pools, such as minority ethnic demographics or from outside major cities?

How do you solve a problem like... recruiting outside the industry talent pool?

erica kirwin

Erica Kirwin, head of people, BBH USA

Attracting diverse talent is a priority for BBH USA. We have measures and partnerships to keep us on track, including a BBH DE&I Core and Leadership team. We have an exclusive partnership with Mathison, a diverse hiring and retention platform, focused on recruiting, building and maintaining an inclusive workplace. We mandate that new hires complete diversity training and hiring managers take bias training. For several years, we’ve had a partnership with 4A’s to offer paid internships to MAIP (Multicultural Advertising Intern Program) fellows. The biggest advice? Leadership must commit and believe in diversity, equity and inclusion – and take real action to achieve it.

harriet shurville

Harriet Shurville, global chief people officer, Iris

Recruiting outside of the industry talent pool is vital for any agency wanting to truly push creative boundaries. We want our people to participate in progress, and for us that progress needs to be driven by a collaboration of diverse minds and talent. To find diverse talent we’ve partnered with specialists who have strong networks, from D&AD to Brixton Finishing School, and we moved away from platforms such as LinkedIn and instead advertised on sites including POCC and Social Fixt.

For us, the most important part of expanding our recruitment was a commitment to it being fair and equitable. Balanced shortlists and removing any personal data from CVs ensure there is no potential bias from hiring managers, and diverse and well-trained interview panels ensure everyone is clear on how to spot great talent without bias.

alicia richardson

Alicia Richardson, senior talent partner, Engine Creative

I’d recommend agencies educate all hiring managers internally on what is truly important in hiring and how to assess candidates based on characteristics and core skills v industry experience and education. If the hiring team is not on board, it doesn't matter what candidates are presented to them; they’re unlikely to progress with applicants they are unfamiliar with seeing.

It’s essential to connect with institutions with a high reach to underrepresented audiences and reduce advertising on traditional recruitment platforms. Create relatable content that connects and encourages your current employees from underrepresented backgrounds to testify how great it is working for your agency.

scott harkey

Scott Harkey, president and chief executive, OH Partners

In our hiring process, flexibility has been key. Obviously we have practices to keep productivity up, but it’s all about working with employees. We’ve prorated salaries for four days of work rather than five for those who would prefer working 80% of the time. We’ve done remote work exceptions for different team members. We’ve utilized the freelance network. We’ve hired former in-house employees from industries that have been hard hit by the pandemic. If you’d have told me five years ago I’d be hiring in-house workers, I’d have laughed in your face. Now I do it all the time.

simon forstere

Simon Forster, founder and executive creative director, Robot Food

As a creative company based outside of London, we’re continually competing with the capital when it comes to attracting talent. As lockdown lifted, we launched an online ‘out-of-home’ recruitment campaign to show what life in Leeds looks like for designers who were considering re-locating. Aiming to highlight the quality of life that the North offers and remind creatives that the same exciting career prospects do exist elsewhere, the images featured beautiful Yorkshire countryside and the phrase: ‘Brand designers. Wouldn’t you rather return to work here?’ It proved successful, with us hiring a talented Scottish designer who was based in London. The company he worked at had gone completely remote and he wanted to be part of a studio culture.

kedma pognon brown

Kedma Pognon Brown, chief operating officer, Dentsu Media Americas

There is no one size fits all. Think more expansively about job qualifications and look at experience, but also look at their potential and transferrable skills. Remove or minimize outdated barriers such as degrees, locations, years of experience, multiple rounds of interviews and assessment tests. Understand that candidates can learn to do the job and help your organization achieve its mission in the long run. Organizations can’t rely on hiring talent alone – they need to retain, develop and grow their existing talent as well. Word of mouth is the best form of advertising, and ensuring your existing talent is happy is paramount.

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Pip Hulbert, UK chief executive, Wunderman Thompson

We focus on creating a holistic strategy aimed at making our business more diverse, equitable and inclusive across recruitment, talent management, leadership, employee experience, marketing and clients. Our DE&I initiatives include the Catalyst Academy, which is an 18-month training and recruitment program that consists of multiple rotations across departments so talent can learn the full spectrum of marketing.

Along with advertising across platforms, including Drive Forward, Stonewall, Brixton Finishing School and The Other Box to Camden’s secondary schools, we ditched the CV in favor of an online application, a video profile and a group task. By widening recruitment channels, thinking beyond a CV and developing a process and environment to really get to know the individual, we’ve hired a more diverse talent pool with 42% of our Catalysts being from an ethnic minority and 42% being female.

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Katie Edwards, managing partner, Publicis Poke

At Publicis Poke our first step was to acknowledge our need to improve diversity across all departments. In order to create long-term change we set up Inside Track – our outreach program with School 21 – to expose the next generation of talent to the world of communications. Students will gain skills in presenting, researching, thinking creatively and practical execution. We will gain a new talent base open to a career that was previously closed to them. We also set up Publicis Poke Talent, partnering with Creative Access to bring in a cohort of early careers talent who will be nurtured in our greenhouse program to build long-term careers across all departments.

niki grant

Niki Grant, director of search, The Kite Factory

Attitude is so much more important than knowledge. While knowledge and facts can be learned, it’s almost impossible to teach a proactive, measured mindset. We are partnered with Mike Alpha, a community interest company built to help the military community into marketing roles, and the caliber of its network of candidates is astounding, despite limited industry knowledge.

We also need to consider neurodiverse candidates; CV writing and face-to-face interviews don’t work for everyone. Ask the candidate how they want to demonstrate their skills. You’ll see the candidate at their absolute best and make it clear they’ll be valued.

sarah jenkins

Sarah Jenkins, managing director, Saatchi & Saatchi

If we are to be a stronger industry on the other side of the pandemic, we have to ensure we are finding brilliant talent both inside and outside the M25. We must look and feel like the whole country we work in and market to. We need to find brilliant solutions to overcome the geographical challenge of being based in one of the most expensive cities in the world – from pop-up agencies in Manchester to partnering with Brixton Finishing School Ad-Cademy or school outreach using Zoom to teach kids in classrooms in Glasgow. And then making London itself accessible by taking away the financial barriers for brilliant young talent, as we are trying to do with Saatchi Home – in partnership with the LHA – which provides subsidized or free accommodation available to interns and entry-level Saatchi & Saatchi talent.

helen matthews

Helen Matthews, chief people officer, Ogilvy UK

As part of recruitment to The Pipe, we advertise in cities outside of London. This has enabled some of our Pipers to continue living at home while we move into a hybrid working model. All of our Pipers also receive a startup bonus for that first travel card or deposit on a flat share. The process itself is done by blind application and with an initial fun brief where each applicant submits something creative.

And as part of our emerging talent strategy, we’ve partnered with Brixton Finishing School and Uptree – as well as having school packs for our grassroots outreach, which our people can do as part of their volunteer time.

shems gali

Shems Ghali, research executive, One Minute to Midnight

We’re working with non-profit Girldreamer, which supports personal and professional development of women of color, and Commercial Break, which increases working-class representation in marketing industries. Working with insights globally means we need a team with different experiences and thinking, so it’s hugely valuable to have help to find a new research assistant (who we can't wait to meet).

We won’t ask for a CV, instead just a few questions such as why you want to work with us and what excites you. It’s not important what education they’ve had, just that they’re interested and eager to learn.

mark stangroom

Mark Stangroom, director of talent acquisition, Incubeta

We work with Applied to reduce subconscious bias from our hiring process, and only ask applicants to answer work sample questions relevant to the job they applied for. These are blind reviewed so candidates are progressed based on relevant skills, not past experience. Interviewees are asked the same structured questions and scored against the required skills for the job. These combined scores help us identify suitability for the job, rather than likeability. We also abide by IAB guidelines for hiring diverse and inclusive teams, which includes auditing external recruiters on their approach to D&I when advertising and assessing candidates.

nic statham

Nicola Statham, director of talent acquisition, FleishmanHillard UK

We’re conscious our industry isn’t always accessible to everyone. Attracting talent from all backgrounds and removing barriers in the recruitment process is a priority for our business. Our interviews are standardized, employee referrals are blind and we’ve invested heavily in unconscious bias training. We’ve broadened our talent pools via partners that champion underrepresented groups such as Rare, The Taylor Bennett Foundation, Creative Access and myGwork. We don’t ask for CVs at entry level, and we launched The Residency with the support of Livity to give people from diverse backgrounds paid work experience alongside our ongoing apprenticeship scheme.

Want to join the debate? Email me at sam.bradley[at] to get next week’s prompt.

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