Playing Around with a Crazy Idea

And I’m sure you’re thinking — yeah, like that’s anything new

But hear me out.

What is still one of the biggest issues facing agencies and marketing professionals today?  Talent.  Finding, recruiting and retaining talent.

More often than not, an agency’s future employees won’t just show up at the front door gift-wrapped and sporting a big red bow.  The shop has to go out and find the right person — that right fit for their agency, clients, type of business, etc.

Sure, you’ll get referrals from others from time to time, but in an age where good (if not great) talent is scarce, agency folks are much less likely to share with others in the business.

Sure, the mechanics of the marketing and advertising business can be taught in school, but there are nuances to the business that just don’t show up in a classroom environment.  And even those students who come out of a portfolio school such as Creative Circus or VCU Brandcenter may not be prepared for agency life — particularly in small agencies such as those here in Idaho.

So, how do we get around that?

One option — An intern “exchange program” similar to one that started in Portland a few years ago — COLABORATORY.  The Colaboratory program is designed to give interns a better understanding of the agency world, and specific disciplines within that environment, by spending time in three different agencies over the course of the program:

COLABORATORY takes place over 6 weeks in Portland, Oregon. 10 participants are selected and individually paired with 3 of the 10 agencies based on their strengths and interests. Interns spend 2 intensely focused weeks at each agency learning from all disciplines.

During the 6 weeks working at agencies across Portland, interns also form 2 competing teams to work on a real client project.

The 2 sides of COLABORATORY give interns a broad view of how agencies work, and at the same time let them learn how to collaborate.

A similar program could be established here in Idaho, and managed by the Boise Advertising Federation and / or Idaho Advertising Federation.

Another option — a professional exchange program of sorts.

This would be a bigger effort than a shared internship program such as COLABORATORY.  It would involve many agencies in several different markets, but could be managed by agency network organizations such as Worldwide Partners, Second Wind, MAGNET Global, Pinnacle Worldwide, etc.

Here’s roughly how I imagine it working:

  • The agency network handles initial recruiting and screening of potential candidates
  • Finalists interview in person at nearest partner agencies
  • Selected participants spend 6 months with an individual agency, learning about the business and individual roles / responsibilities, while working for the agency and it’s clients.
  • Upon completion of the 6 months, the participant is able to move to another partner agency, in a different location, and continue learning about the jobs, how different agencies function, etc.
  • Program could last up to two years (4 agencies) — at any time, the current agency has the option to offer the participant a full-time permanent position.

These would be paid positions, of course, and all participating agencies would agree on common salary amounts throughout the course of the program.

In a lot of ways, this would be an apprentice program of sorts.

It would probably be best suited for those just out of school, new to the business, or otherwise able to be relatively mobile over the course of a couple of years (think moving to a different city every six months or so).  Also, it could be best suited for account service, client service, planning or related “client-facing” types of jobs — those where the skills aren’t (or can’t) be easily taught in a classroom environment.

But if it were successful, candidates would have the ability to learn from some of the best and brightest, and apply that functional knowledge wherever they go.  And this type of program has the ability to produce some of the most well-rounded and talented employees available for years to come.

Logistically, is it simple? No.

But, it’s just crazy enough that it might work.

On Finding and Hiring the Right People

It’s no secret that I think Bart Cleveland of McKee Wallwork Cleveland is one of the best writers contributing to the Ad Age Small Agency Diary.

His most recent piece is another winner:
Hiring the Right People Is a No-Brainer (Finding Them Is Like Brain Surgery)

A sample from the article:

Time allows you to get to know someone. Time reveals someone’s subtle characteristics. Not just negatives, but positives too. I’ve hired people who I at first believed weren’t really the right fit, but over time, I discovered the real person behind the first impression. You must be willing to take your time if you want a staff whose sum is greater than its parts.

Take the time to read the entire thing. As always, it’s full of Bart’s practical wisdom and a common sense that is too often overlooked.

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Issues facing agencies

Late last month I posed the question to the readers of the Idaho Ad Agencies blog, “What do you think is going to be the biggest issue facing agencies in Idaho this year?” The responses were varied, as I expected, and ranged from serious to sarcastic.

It’s only fair that I share my thoughts on the subject.

I think the biggest issue facing agencies in Idaho (and everywhere else for that matter) this year is talent. More specifically, finding, recruiting, and retaining talent.

Let’s look at Boise and the Treasure Valley, for example. While there are over 600,000 people in the Boise MSA, the marketing and advertising industry is still a relatively small community. As such, the pool of available talent is very limited. Add to it the fact that agencies from out of town, and out of state are actively recruiting talent away from the Boise area, and the issue is further magnified (I’ve seen recruiting happening from a variety of agencies in the past year in Bend, Portland, Seattle, and Boulder, just to name a few).

Also, as evidenced last year, a number of seasoned agency staff, particularly creative staff, strike out on their own for a variety of reasons. That’s to be expected, of course, and is not something that’s likely to change any time soon.

The questions then, is what is the agency management / ownership doing to compensate for this? Are they on the lookout for new talent every day, or are they only looking when they have a specific position to fill? I’d be willing to say that it’s a little of both, and the answer will vary depending on which agency we’re talking about.

Of course, it’s easy for me to sit here and say that agencies should always be on the lookout for new talent. But along with that commitment comes the time and expenses related to it. I think, however, that those who are willing to make the commitment to finding and recruiting new talent for their shop will be in a good position for continued success.

So, now that I’ve rambled on for a while, I’ll throw the question back out to the audience: What steps can agencies in Idaho take now to position themselves well for the current, and future, war for talent?

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