Is your agency winning the Talent War?

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We wrote about Agency Talent Management a few weeks ago but employee retention is clearly a hot topic judging the number of articles and webinars that are floating on the web. There is an excellent Adweek Webinar in conjunction with Deltek which had ‘talent gurus’ from the industry talk about the challenges their agencies face and how they are addressing them. It’s an excellent Webinar so I strongly recommend that you watch it if you have the time.

It touches on many of the points that we have discussed before:

Salary Isn’t Enough


Agency employees are working longer hours and believe they’re underpaid. We also talked about this topic albeit in relation to the agency when we spoke about client over-servicing. Agencies have been guilty of ignoring over-servicing precisely because most of these extra hours are not paid to the employees. The problem is that millennials and Gen Z employees are not so willing to work long hours just to get ahead and work-life balance is an important factor to them.

The desire to align ethical, social, and political values is important. At least it’s more important than it used to be although it’s sometimes debatable.

While salary is definitely a significant factor, flexibility, work/life balance, employer-provided resources, and career advancement opportunities play a large role in employee retention.

Agencies may have to offer more money as well, particularly now with the lack of available talent but packages are not all about money.

Increase in Employee Burnout


Workplace burnout is not a new issue or exclusive to the advertising industry but, if you think about it, an ad agency does appear to be a perfect storm for it.

The long working hours, the monotonous, the use of inefficient and antiquated tools like Email and Excel, the lack of defined processes and procedures, the trend of hiring cheaper (therefore inexperienced staff) and throwing them in the deep end.  I could go on but you get the point. Just take a look at what the agency employees described it as and you can see how they neatly fit into the points above:

  • Working on monotonous tasks for extreme hours
  • Taking on too many responsibilities
  • Lack of clarity and focus on what is needed
  • Anxiety & lack of sleep

The competitive Job Market

The talent market in the industry is very competitive and it’s more difficult now to fill a position than ever. Agencies used to be able to post openings on LinkedIn and sit back and wait for the flood of applications. That is no longer the case and applications from suitably qualified candidates are few and far between.

The main issues are:

  • Today’s hot creatives are increasingly finding their Zen in the tech world. It’s just not cool anymore to work in advertising.
  • In-house agency sophistication and growth create the need for more leaders.
  • The competitive landscape, in general, is more crowded, the aforementioned in-house agencies consulting firms, digital agencies, the ‘man in the garage
  • Those that don’t start up themselves are now more open to freelance, both because they see it as a manner to better control their personal time, but as there are a lot of options for work in the foreseeable future.

So what are the answers?

You have to watch the Webinar if you want to hear the panel’s (Susan Scott, Brianna Minko, and Alyssa Adelson) thoughts on agency talent management but here below are a few of my thoughts.

I make no apology for repeating myself. The first thing that you should do is to have the right processes and procedures in place. This should include:

  • Onboarding
  • Performance Management
  • Career Development & Training
  • Talent Management
  • Succession Planning

This also applies to all parts of the business

  • Prospecting & pitching
  • Briefs & Statements of work
  • Estimating
  • Time recording
  • Etc, etc

Once you have these in place, they need to be monitored and tracked. There is a well-used saying that you can’t fix what you can’t measure. The agency needs to have tools and software in place to measure compliance with the policies. For example, it needs to proactively, address employees that are working long hours. It needs to alert employee managers if they have not taken their quota of vacation. It needs to have decent collaboration, project management, and proofing tools (amongst others) that minimize the amount of boring and laborious work that employees do.

Of course, when it comes to agency talent management, increasing salaries and adding perks like an unlimited vacation will help but will not keep employees in the long term. They want to work in a well-organized, innovative, as well creative business.

Those things are not mutually exclusive. Agencies can be all three.

Agency systems are key to increase profitability

The high price of disconnected agency systems

In today’s world, agency systems need to be connected to improve the productivity of talent. If maximum productivity equals profit, your agency should have the right systems in place. Specially considering that remote-work seems to be here to stay.

Read More »

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