ANA Newsstand: What a Hot Job Market Means for Brand Teams | ANA

What a Hot Job Market Means for Brand Teams

Brands and ad agencies must adapt — and quickly — to meet the changing demands of a restless workforce

By Chuck Kapelke

Greg Mably/

Amid the swirl of change CMOs and marketers now face, one of the toughest is how to attract and retain the kind of talent that will help brands thrive in a post-digital age. With apologies to Jaws' Chief Martin Brody, marketers are going to need a bigger boat.

According to a recent survey by Working Not Working Magazine, 50 percent of advertising creative professionals are thinking about switching career tracks. The survey, based on the responses from 850 executives, also found that more than a quarter of the respondents are dissatisfied with their work. The situation is acute, as people have gotten conditioned to working from home, and are now using that as leverage. "Agencies that are saying you have to come back to work in person are losing employees," says Ann Willets, founder of GB Executive Recruiting, which specializes in the PR and marketing industries. "Those are the people I'm scooping up and placing somewhere else. It's a big migration. It's completely changing the industry. And the old guard who don't get it are going to lose out."

Part of the challenge may be generational: millennials and gen Zers are more likely than their older counterparts to walk away, according to an Amdocs survey of 1,000 full-time workers.

But industry observers say they're seeing people of all ages cut ties. "We've seen people leaving just because they want to do something different," says Lori Almeida, global chief talent officer at ANA member Siegel+Gale. "It's been an intense year and a half, and people are trying to break out of the day-in, day-out rigor we've had to deal with."

To push back against the tide of the "Great Resignation," agencies and brand-side marketers need to focus on building a people-first workplace.

"Marketing is changing, and work-life is changing," says Bradley Johnson, director of data analytics at Ad Age, who oversees the annual Ad Age Best Places to Work ranking. "If you are going to embrace the future, the last thing you should do is go back to business as usual. It's not about returning to the way we used to work. To attract workers, you need a winning workplace."

Give a Little, Get a Little

Burnout is a big factor in ad creatives' unhappiness, according to the Working Not Working survey, with about 41 percent of the respondents saying they feel burned out every so often, 27 percent feel it consistently, and 20 percent are "extremely burnt out." The most common reasons cited: long hours (51 percent), lost motivation (48 percent), and how they are treated or valued (37 percent).

Burnout can be avoided by setting clear expectations and permitting for a high level of personal freedom. Cargo, a marketing agency and ANA member based in Greenville, S.C., for instance, doesn't allow employees to work from home full-time, but they offer a lot of flexibility.

"When we go to recruit and look for talent, we are asking for butts in seats," says Rocky French, creative lead at Cargo. "We are seeing some walkaways and not as many hand-raisers, but we've nearly doubled our headcount since January. Our policy is, if you need to work remotely for a month because you have something going on in another city, no problem, we can do it."

Cargo's offices are chock-full of perks designed to make people feel at home, including a ping-pong table, an arcade with gaming consoles, and a full bar. The firm also offers "Summer Fridays," when everyone takes off at noon the last day of the workweek. But the secret sauce, French says, is a culture built on treating people like human beings. "We're able to sell an environment of collaboration and humanity and just caring about one another," he says.

Key takeaway: Agencies and brands need to reassure current and prospective employees that their time is valued — inside and outside of the workplace. "To hire good people, we have to be flexible in our approach," Almeida says. "A lot of the changes that resulted from COVID-19 are better for our spirit and our soul."

Talent Comes from Everywhere

In light of dramatic changes in the U.S., both culturally and demographically, agencies and brands need to cast a wider net for talent, says Gord McLean, president and CEO of the ANA Educational Foundation, which focuses on recruiting younger people for a career in marketing and advertising. That includes Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Hispanic-serving campuses, lesser-known schools, and companies outside the marketing industry.

"We have to begin to understand that talent comes from everywhere; it doesn't just come from New York, L.A., Chicago, and major urban centers," McLean says. "And we can't just look at communications programs. We need more liberal arts and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) students."

Brands and organizations should also look to streamline the hiring process to make it easy for new hires to come aboard. "You've got to be more flexible, or the role will sit open," Willets says. "If you're waiting for a unicorn, you put stress on your existing team, and then they start leaving. And you have to be faster and nimble in how you interview. Candidates are tired of jumping through hoops."

Key takeaway: Hiring and onboarding are key to long-term retention, but these steps are too often overlooked by business managers. Career pathways, diversity networks, and mentorship are essential for helping entry-level employees to feel at home. "People often call me and say, 'They threw me into the deep end,'" Willets says. "You need to give the candidate a sense that you are going to bring them in and nurture them and make sure they have a comfortable transition into your organization."

Treat Candidates Like a Client

Competitive pay and a handsome benefits package also play a huge role in attracting candidates who may be drawn to other business sectors. However, creative services agencies need to do for themselves what they are often called upon to do for their clients: provide candidates with a convincing argument to work together centered around a strong sense of purpose.

"Core employee benefits are really entry points," Johnson says. "Companies that consistently do well in our surveys are authentic, and they're original. They are true to their brand, with a strong brand purpose. They're not cutting and pasting what competitors do."

Younger candidates in particular need to be clear on the firm's raison d'être. "You need to be able to articulate your mission, why you exist," McLean says. "The young talent in their early career stages, they are not just looking for a job, they want a meaningful career that can play a positive role in society."

Key takeaway: Building a workplace with low turnover and high engagement is not impossible, but it takes creativity and investment of both time and resources. "Employees want support, encouragement, empowerment, and purpose," Johnson says. "If you can focus on those attributes, you're going to have an advantage in attracting the talent you need to win."



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