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Work & Wellbeing

Why brands can’t be silent on the talent crisis facing agencies

By Paul Stringer, Consultant

November 11, 2021 | 5 min read

Brands and marketers have a vital role to play in helping agencies through the current talent crisis. Paul Stringer, consultant at ID Comms, highlights three ways they can make a difference.

Agency Talent Crisis

Why are advertisers silent on the agency talent crisis?

Recently, I’ve come across a lot of thoughtful and smart opinions from agency leaders on the current talent crisis. It’s just a shame that the conversation feels so one sided.

I’m talking about the conspicuous absence of opinion from advertisers; otherwise known as the people who pay for this talent in the first place.

Maybe advertisers do not see the current talent crisis as their problem to solve. Or perhaps, having taken back control of the marketing process, many advertisers feel confident they could cope, or even thrive in a world where the very best talent isn’t sourced from their agency partners.

I disagree. If the talent crisis worsens, there will be as many bad consequences for brands as for agencies.

For a start, the cost of talent will increase for all because of scarcity in the market. It is also likely that any brain drain will lead to a decline in advertising effectiveness as strategies and activation become less effective and efficient. Certainly, agencies will have to become much more selective about which clients they can service or pitch for if they are forced to operate leaner teams.

So, what can advertisers do to help agencies build businesses that attract, retain and nurture the brightest people? I would highlight three core areas for action:

1. Establish a remuneration model that rewards value generation: It should be a given that premium talent costs a lot of money but over the years, advertisers and agencies have chipped away at this notion to the point that we expect to pay bottom dollar for access to the brightest minds. Advertisers must accept they need to pay a premium for the best talent. At the same time, agencies must work harder to demonstrate the rewards that result from this investment. The bridge between these two worlds is a remuneration model that links agency performance to business and brand outcomes.

2. Contribute to a culture of retention: There’s been a lot of talk from agencies about retention strategies, but advertisers also need to think about how they can help their agency partners retain their best talent. That means playing their part in creating a positive, rewarding and inclusive working environment. One good place to start is with the people actually interfacing with agency teams day-to-day. Have fair and respectful ways of working been established? Do teams follow a rigorous briefing process that allows time for collaboration and questions? How are last-minute changes to briefs managed? These questions aside, also consider what agency governance mechanisms exist (for example agency service evaluations) and how these can be leveraged to gain insight into the performance and behaviour of marketing teams; great agency talent wants to work with the best advertiser teams. Anything brands can do to improve themselves will also make life easier for their agency partners.

3. Put talent planning at the centre of the partnership: It can be difficult for advertisers and agencies to rise above the parapet of the day-to-day and talk strategically about their partnership. But this is one of the most critical things to do when it comes to talent. Agency Chief People Officers or Heads of Talent should be treated as key members of the client leadership team. Clients must be able to have frank and honest conversation around talent with these specialists; to address skills gaps, recruitment and retention strategies; and also give agencies a better understanding of how their business requirements might change so they can plan their talent pipelines accordingly.

Getting these areas right is key to protecting both advertisers and agencies from the worst effects of the talent crisis. It is also a step towards building a more resilient industry, rooted in principles of collaboration, reciprocity, empathy and fairness.

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