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Recruiter’s Corner: 'Agencies must adopt servant leadership'

It’s time for agencies to reach out, listen and learn from employees

Agency talent feels empowered to explore opportunities outside of adland. At the same time brands and tech companies alike are welcoming them with open arms. In this edition of Recruiter’s Corner, Grace Blue Partnership founder Jay Haines discusses why ad execs are so attractive and what agencies need to do to attract and retain top talent.

The challenge: retain agency talent that is in serious demand outside of adland

There has never been a more dynamic and lateral market than we’re seeing across the creative and marketing industries. It’s opened up people’s minds so much as to what might be possible. We’re now seeing this natural evolution from a very traditionally linear career view to a much more lateral view, where all the restrictions and handbrakes have been taken off by the world around us. People have access to opportunities they simply never had before. The market is making people really think twice about where they are on their journey and what the next year or 24 months could look like.

The agency skillset in particular is extremely desirable because it prepares you for such broader opportunities in life. For way too long agency talent have restricted themselves to that world and to that market. People are realizing that actually what you’re taught at an agency – the commercial aspect, the creativity, the strategy, all of it – really equips you to do much more. I love to see that talent is being recognized across the brand side and the technology side. They are recognizing the potential in agency talent that had been hidden in the past.

The solution: servant leadership must now become the norm in advertising

What we need to see on the agency side is increased amounts of servant leadership whereby the companies are in service of the talent. That’s a complete turnaround from where it had been for the last 50 years.

Whether you’re a holding company, mid-sized or independent, you really have to lean in and listen. You have to take notice, spend time and listen hard to how the employees are feeling and how they want to evolve their careers. You then have to begin to create those opportunities and break down the traditional structures.

Historically, talent has been in service to those bosses who are running those companies and Wall Street. That’s been turned on its head because now it’s about finding a way to deepen the relationship you have with that talent. The relationship strategy is going to come to the fore massively. Those agencies that listen, and are agile and open-minded in the way they approach those situations, will be the winners. That all comes from the top down, with relationships being built much more deeply and much less transactionally. There are many ways to do that, and that playbook is now being written.

The brass tacks: agencies need to rethink employee compensation packages

The concept of agility equally applies to the way that contracts are structured. What increasingly we are being asked to find is opportunity where talent can build long-term equity, be that emotional or financial. People are very open minded about the different types of payment structures, and often are looking for a three-year vest or a five-year vest where they can build long-term equity and long-term wealth. That is a more traditional make-up on the brand side, but it’s becoming very, very attractive elsewhere.

Agencies need to look at how they can change the way they incentivize staff and, again, it comes down to the relationship piece. How can you make sure that the staff are able to share the success of the agency in the long term? Increasingly this means moving away from a very functional, one-dimensional ‘earn a certain amount and get a 10 or 20% bonus with no stock’.

Creating a long-term play is a winning proposition all around. The only challenge you are facing is the muscle memory of 50 years of working the same way. Muscle memory slows things down, and the biggest obstacle for a holding company is how you begin to break the chains of the past. This means changing up the way you talk to people, engage with people, pay people and incentivize people. The companies that will win will be those that build deep relationships with their staff, make them feel they’re part of the journey and, ultimately, allow them to share in the success of the organization.

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