Why Advertising Talent Is Resigning and How Agencies Can Buck the Trend | Industry Insights | All MKC Content | ANA

Why Advertising Talent Is Resigning and How Agencies Can Buck the Trend

By Adam Warburton


“We need your help. We’ve got more than 150 open posts that we just can’t fill.”

WorkReduce, which helps connect advertising talent with open roles, has heard this often over the past year. Many agencies and holding companies have seen staff leaving in droves and many have been unable to keep up with talent demands to sustain business growth.

Diving into the reasons so many advertising professionals are leaving full-time agency work can help us understand why the talent crisis is happening — and how to fix it.

Why great talent is leaving agencies

At the end of 2020, industry leaders were puzzled over why talent had started to resign from great jobs. They wondered why top brands and agencies were struggling to find new talent to replace headcount and keep up with exploding digital advertising growth.

WorkReduce undertook a series of market surveys to fully understand why great talent was leaving equally great companies. Where were talented contributors going? What could businesses do better to retain and attract them? And did the “Great Resignation” wave crest in 2021? Spoiler: It didn’t. 

The key truths discovered were:  

  • We're not having a talent shortage. We’re having a talent crisis, meaning there is not a shortage of talented professionals as much as a broader industry failure to convince them that full-time advertising roles are worth taking.  
  • Resigning ad talent aren’t “anti-work”; they want better working conditions. 
  • Ad talent aren’t just burned out and seeking more money — they want flexible working conditions in a company where they feel valued. 
  • A lack of career support and advancement are big resignation factors. 
  • Throwing money at the problem won’t attract and retain talent long term. 

WorkReduce’s surveys revealed that ad industry talent wants what many knowledge economy workers across industry are increasingly demanding: greater flexibility and work-life balance; roles that help them grow and develop specialized, highly marketable skills; and recruitment strategies that focus on both the company and the candidate’s unique value.

Agency employees are no strangers to working 80-hour weeks. In the post-COVID world of remote work, this is no longer acceptable. Agencies can start solving the problem by setting more reasonable boundaries with clients and offering training opportunities that help talent develop specialized skills that make them more efficient. Respondents ranked the latter among the top three things an employer could offer to attract and retain them — behind only compensation and expanded benefits.

A talent-centric philosophy should also guide policy regarding remote work. Media companies do themselves a disservice if they cut pay for employees who choose to work remotely or feign to offer employee choice while forcing talent into the office two days a week. Pay employees based on their skills and experience — and if a job can truly be done on a fully remote basis, offer the latter to stay competitive in the labor market.

Finally, talent is demanding that recruiting processes center the unique contributions of the employee and the unique selling points of the company. This means selling jobs based on a company’s distinct aspirations, not pumping out canned job descriptions that read like laundry lists of tasks.

It also means leaning into diversity and inclusion, seeking talent in candidates with unconventional professional and geographic backgrounds who can offer something new to the workplace.

The proof is in the numbers

WorkReduce’s surveys did not just inform the market; along with exit interviews and online candidate reviews, the surveys led to changes in our own business. 

WorkReduce took an honest look at our own business model and behaviors, investigating how they were shaping employee experiences, candidate experiences, and in turn customer experiences. 

As a result, we updated our own practices to reflect the desires of the talent we polled and interviewed. We shifted from calibrating pay based on talent’s location to compensation based on skills and experience. We transformed our job ads from lists of tasks to descriptions of the aspirational benefits of working with us, the team with whom the candidate would work, and the impact they would have. We helped our talent specialize and capped the work week at 40 hours. And we sought talent in emerging markets, fostering a more diverse workplace with team members from El Salvador, the Philippines, Eastern Europe, and South Africa, to name a few.

The numbers illustrate the impact of these changes. Our candidate acceptance has increased 10 percent since WorkReduce stopped basing compensation on location. Since updating our recruitment job ads, our weekly applications have increased 12 times. Our business revenue has grown 400 percent, and our candidate applications rose from an average 200 to more than 1,300 per month over the second half of 2021. 

It will not be easy for the ad industry to take an honest look at its practices and recenter them on recruiting and retaining the best talent. But therein lie the answers on how to solve the talent crisis.

The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.

Adam Warburton is VP, Talent Acquisition & People, at WorkReduce. Warburton is a 15-year career veteran within the talent industry. A former Googler, he has helped technology organizations scale domestic and globally sourced recruiting optimization programs as well as People programs.