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Talent Brexit Work & Wellbeing

We’re not out of the woods yet, so let’s invest in our people

By Chris Skinner, President EMEA

February 4, 2022 | 6 min read

While businesses are still wary of potential threats in 2022, UM’s Chris Skinner argues that they’ll need to think more proactively to recruit and retain the best talent.


Our people are the backbone of our business, so let’s cherish them

We might be slowly emerging from the dark woods of Covid, but our industry’s path through 2022 remains thorny and bramble-strewn. The news is full of conflict and confusion, both literal and metaphorical: rising inflation and taxes, continual supply chain disruption, Brexit fallout and fundamental shifts in consumer behavior. That’s not to mention the accelerating pace of change in media and the associated pressures this places on our teams.

Looking beyond the gloomy headlines, it’s not all bad news. There are also opportunities interlinked with these challenges, including rising economic output in some sectors and newly-emerging channels and technologies.

However, media agencies only have a limited window in which to prepare in order to avoid the pitfalls while grasping the advantages. In many cases this will mean re-structuring teams.

In practice, that means we will have to get our product right, transforming our planning process to make sure we can move quickly and tie strategies back in a meaningful way to cultures and communities. We’ll also have to re-evaluate our approach to people if we’re to win the war for talent in the long term and weather increasing churn in the meantime.

There are no quick fixes, but we need to make the effort now if we are to futureproof our own businesses, as well as those of our clients.

What marketing will look like this year

Many things remain beyond our control. The economy is in the unique situation of having come from a short, very deep recession followed by a swift rebound, with new words including ‘furlough’ and ‘great resignation’ entering the lexicon. That’s matched with geopolitical uncertainty that’s created significant polarization and countries falling into big trading blocks.

All of this is creating more uncertainty – especially with higher inflation, tax and utility bills that probably haven’t filtered through yet and will have a big impact on the economy, people’s wellness and the risk of even greater political polarization.

This will have a huge impact on marketing. Brands need to react to the evolving climate at speed and speak sensitively to consumers through this new cultural and economic lens. At a more simplistic level, people will be seeking pay rises and to have more certainty around their own future and their own career.

In context of the media agency and advertising in general, we are also faced with a situation in which most – if not all – of our clients are also having to adapt to the realities of a post-pandemic world. Our clients are thus deep into the planning of some kind of e-commerce and digital transformation, and need the ability to change and adapt almost overnight.

Consequently, having the right people, product and processes in place to manage (fast) evolving client needs is going to be a major theme of our industry this year.

Rethinking the agency and focusing on people

Against this backdrop and huge pressures of change, our industry has an opportunity to rethink everything and build more dynamic and sustainable agencies shaped by clients’ needs, but designed to enable our people to deliver exceptional work while balancing their own lives.

Investment in tech needs to be matched with investment in training, mentoring and remuneration, as well as more personal engagement with our people and getting the balance right with the heavy demands placed on them.

This should be the top priority. Let’s do everything we can to retain our amazing talent, refreshing our organizations with a carefully-created recruitment strategy. And importantly, as agencies look to grow their business and onboard new regional and global clients, more focus will be required on promotion from within. Agencies should reward people for staying and being with them, rather than just focusing on recruitment.

People, especially those just starting out in their career, need exciting opportunities to grow and gain experience, such as working on pitches, training and mentoring for the Cannes Young Lions competition or, in UM’s case, joining our cross-market ‘Mavericks’ team tasked with boosting creativity and innovation around the globe.

Finding fresh talent will increasingly mean looking outside the industry – as well as outside our immediate vicinity of London to other parts of the UK, Europe and the globe. Aligned to this, it’s also vital we are able to bring in people from diverse backgrounds with the opportunities to succeed.

That means giving people opportunities for the best training and support, both in terms of professional development and expansion of skillsets, but also in how we help them manage workloads and time. At UM we’ve just introduced ‘Empowered U’ – which includes more incentives to celebrate staff and great work, but also with one day a month ringfenced for staff to focus on their self-development, however they want to do so.

Looking at the rest of 2022 with a degree of excitement, and also some measured concern, agencies will need to balance the risk of reward and opportunity. And if they do one thing this year, it should be to invest more in their people. Get this right and our sector will have a great year – and heavens know we could all use one after 2020-21.

Chris Skinner is president EMEA at media agency UM.

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