Finding Magic: 10 Tips for Recruiting Top Talent

The most valuable capital in the communications industry is superstar talent. Despite the fact that we’ve done our best to commoditize it, it remains the heaviest currency.  Read the trades, the biggest stories of the past year have been the comings and goings of agency linchpins (unless media itself is a big story). There have been a few interesting account wins (Wendy’s, Pizza Hut and currently the AFLAC review), but the daily dish is always a big name (lately it’s been some lady dressed in a Chanel suit) coming in or moving on. We’re an industry of high profile peripateticity.

Why? Because what’s at the top filters down. Recruiting key senior management talent is the most expeditious, and often the most effective way to upgrade an agency.  Attracting a star, or better yet, a rising star is often what separates a good agency from a great agency.

So, what is a superstar? There are two kinds — let’s call them Pistol and Magic.

Pistol is Pete Maravich — all-time NCAA scorer (3 years, no 3 point line). Rock star. Degree-of-difficulty champion. Not a winner. Does not make anyone around him better. Loses. Pouts when not the center of attention. Is a character.

Magic is Magic Johnson — Rejects personal achievement, MAKES EVERYONE AROUND HIM BETTER. Wins. Makes it look easy. Always positive. Just wins. Has character (maybe not self-restraint, but character).

Hey, I loved Pistol Pete. Idolized him. But, I was 12 years old and didn’t know better. He could have been on the cover of Tiger Beat. And I hated Earvin Johnson — I was a Celtics fan living near Boston in the ’80’s. I wanted to wipe that smile right off his face. But, I realize now the difference between the two superstars: one made everyone around him better. The other didn’t. Suffice it to say, when seeking top talent — look for Magic.

Ok, we’re talking about an impact hire — talent that will excite clients, prospects and employees. A Creative Director, an Account Director,  a Media Director, a potential partner. Here are some guidelines that might help you evaluate and attract this type of talent:

1. DON’T be overly influenced by geography. It’s tempting to think that the ideal candidate (or their spouse) may have personal ties to your state or region. They may, or they may not. They will only move for one reason: Opportunity. Geography is a reason people DON’T move. It is rarely the reason they do. And if it is, it’s not a good enough reason. Geography, compensation, titles, etc. are secondary, supporting factors.  Opportunity is the primary factor.

2. DON’T screen candidates based on the size of their current agency. It’s also tempting to assume that the best fit will come from a similarly-sized current environment. This is an idea business. No two agencies are the same anyway, regardless of size. Sometimes mid-sized agencies are intimidated by candidates from the multinationals, and the larger agencies are sometimes prone to frowning upon candidates from smaller shops.

3. DON’T screen candidates primarily on category experience. You strive to increase differentiation for your clients — so consider taking this opportunity to do the same for your agency. Category experience is negligible compared to talent.

4. DON’T overlook the spec. The superstar’s portfolio/reel/work is chock full of visible, award-winning work — but, some of their best work was never produced. They love to talk about this stuff, and it will also provide an interesting peek into their potential. Don’t diminish a great idea just because it didn’t sell.

5. DO throw out the checklists and spreadsheets. This is a high-stakes creative hire, not an engineer. Trust your eyes, your ears and your instincts.

6. DO determine exactly what you need. What do you need for your candidate to accomplish? Can they?  Don’t recruit top talent to do a job they can’t do. Or they can do it, but you won’t let them.  Consider the obstacles to accomplishment in determining your needs.

7. DO notice and study the work you admire. Look for campaigns that are smart, creative and relevant to your business. Don’t under OR overestimate the major award shows. Trust your eyes.

8. DO initiate a conversation.Spend time on the phone with your candidates and you’ll get an initial sense of chemistry and interest. Emails, tweets, etc. are fine — but dialogue is a stronger recruiting/evaluation tool.  Ask them questions. Ask them what their principles are. Ask them what they know about your agency. Address their perceptions.

9. DO study the case studies. Ask the candidate to present a couple of their most interesting case studies — the two they’re most proud of. Ask them to take you through the campaigns — from strategy to results. This is separate from their portfolio work.

10. DO stress your agency’s and your personal values.Don’t assume everyone has the same methods, tactics or endgame.

One thought on “Finding Magic: 10 Tips for Recruiting Top Talent

  1. Carl Brickman

    Think this is generally true for all industries/businesses? Would you feel comfortable substituting “The most valuable capital in the virtually any industry is superstar talent.”?


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