What today’s talent wars mean for ad agencies

Don’t bring a pocket knife to a gunfight

If you haven’t noticed on your LinkedIn feed, every day hundreds (if not thousands) of people are hired by advertising agencies. Folks I couldn’t get arrested last year are being scooped up by both global and regional shops. If you can fog a mirror, you’re hired!

“Hire me!”

There is only one precedent for this kind of hiring activity in my 33 years of recruiting experience: the dotcom boom/tech bubble –caused by excessive speculation of internet-related companies in the late 1990s; a period of massive growth in the use and adoption of the newly born worldwide web. Back then, even mediocre talent got big raises. Fast forward to the post-vaccine Roaring ’20’s.

Well, those then-fledgling tech companies grew up and a few are now the most valuable entities on the planet. So, I have a feeling this bubble will sustain a good bit longer than one in the late-90’s. Get used to that hiring feeling. Why? It’s simple math. According to The Wall Street Journal, ad spends are up 19% (26% in digital). That’s a total of $750 billion.

But really, why? We laid off and furloughed so many people in 2020 — combine that with the increased workload that comes with nearly 20% industry growth and…you get talent wars.

Signs of a talent war:

  • Increase in counteroffers accepted
  • Significant decrease in jobvite and online applications
  • Inflationary salary expectations
  • Swollen salaries
  • Workplace concessions
  • Live/Work balance demands
  • Remote considerations

So, what does it mean for ad agencies?

  • They will have to charge off the inflation to the client or take the hit themselves
  • They will have to get better at the art of recruiting and stop treating hiring top talent as an HR function
  • They will have to go after talent that’s not in the “job market” — actually recruit talent instead of waiting for it to fall into their laps
  • They will have to pay real and specific bonuses and incentives
  • They will have to convert the workplace to a live/workplace
  • They will have to go outside of the industry for creative, strategic & account service talent
  • They will have to accept remote and hybrid employees as a partial solution

In an era of free agency, it’s a player’s market, not an owner’s market. That’s the way it should be in an industry with no certification, licenses or inventory.

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