Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Attract or fail

Published in Sep-Oct 2015

What the industry, and the professionals who run it, need to do in order to attract the best talent to the ad industry.
Illustration by Creative Unit.
Illustration by Creative Unit.

What is keeping me awake at nights is the thought that what if we, as an advertising industry, are not able to attract young and extremely talented graduates. To me this is the biggest challenge we have at hand today, one that will define our future existence as strategic creative agencies and impact other challenges, such as business growth, quality creative output and innovation. I am sure some agencies are already feeling the sting of this emergency situation – others will feel it soon.

The industry has always been as strong as the individuals in it, yet there is a sinking feeling that advertising agencies are losing their magnetism and dynamism and are not perceived among the top career options on the list of a young, talented graduate.

With growing competition for creativity, agencies today need to engender the right culture, mission and meaningful work to attract and retain that talent. As an industry we can achieve this by investing time, energy, effort and money into attracting and educating them about what an ad agency does and how exciting, vibrant and groundbreaking working in the ad space can be.

We need to do a better job of reaching out to students before they enter the marketplace, as most of them (in some cases even the faculty) have no idea about what goes on in the advertising world. If we don’t do anything to attract young talent, then I am afraid it will short circuit the potential of this wonderful industry very soon.

Such challenges can only be dealt with a vision that involves the industry association and the leading agencies and cannot be overcome by the effort of one or few agencies only – it needs to emerge as a unanimous agenda and with a full hearted, consistent and long term approach.

We need to understand the younger generation and evolve strategies to attract and keep developing them into the leaders we want them to become. Failing this, we may face significant talent and business challenges down the road. We need to realise that young, talented people have a lot of drive, are achievement oriented and would like to approach their jobs as entrepreneurs. I think our approach towards them needs to be fundamentally more entrepreneurial, focusing on rewarding talent for taking risks and providing incentives for their innovativeness, simultaneously creating structures that reward growth and risk taking.

Young creative talent wants to work with and be around other creative people, regardless of their core competencies, therefore, agencies need to create a collaborative environment where advertising is, or includes, digital, social, gamification, app development, second-screen engagement, big data and a host of other developing technologies. This will also give the ad agencies an edge over the start-ups that seem appealing and attractive for young, talented people.

As an industry and as ad agencies we must engage with colleges, setting a quarterly goal to spend time with potential hires from those colleges. The cream of the crop is probably already employed or have made up their minds even before they have graduated and are not searching for a job.

Therefore, it is extremely important for prominent industry heads and icons to go the extra mile and reach out to dream hires, sharing with them the success, charm, vision, bright future and the role they can play in this exciting world of advertising. It is a fact that nothing attracts talented creative people more than a clearly defined vision of a promising future. And the opportunities to be part of making it come true. We need to present them with our mission, why we need them on our teams, why they are so valuable and how they can make a difference.

We need to show-off our best people, organisational culture and creative work to communicate a simple but powerful message to students – that if you come and work with us, you will get to work with awesome people on exciting projects. Presenting positive experiences, enthusiasm and success stories of the current employees (ideally hired from their institution) will also make a big impact in attracting them to the industry. We have to acknowledge the importance of the role that culture and creativity play in attracting young talent and driving innovation.

Working in the ad agency is not just about work, but also about life where you play games, have fun, exercise and socialise. We need to create an environment based on openness, transparency and collaboration where what they do for a living is fun for them. The term ‘work-life balance’ is obsolete because it assumes that when you are at work you are not living which is not the case in the modern work-life environment.

Be careful
We should not become so busy looking outside for talent that we forget the inside. The best way to attract young, talented graduates is to encourage them to join the advertising industry through their happy, excited and successful friends and relatives already working in advertising as nothing works better than a good word from someone you trust and know well. We will only get recommendations when we are able to keep our existing associates happy, satisfied and excited; therefore we need to keep investing in developing and educating industry talent. The truth is that everyone says talent is top priority but very few agencies invest. Although we should be focused on keeping the young talent stream flowing in our industry, grooming, training and developing our existing resources for future challenges is the essence.

We have to understand that there is no way we can buy, barter or recycle our way out of the talent challenge – fusing our existing pool of resources with fresh, extremely talented people is the key to a winning combination of mad crazy ideas and experience. We need to move people forward who will move the agency forward, and in turn the advertising industry forward.

We need to celebrate our profession, best talent and meaningful work. The advertising association needs to play an active role and should bring all stakeholders on one platform in order to strategically overcome this challenge. The association needs to formalise a recruitment strategy with seminars, student engagement programmes, and events to showcase the talent and the work, while other activities can be planned and implemented.

Until recently we all felt confident in our abilities to manage staffing at creative agencies and the thought of exposing our way of thinking, our secret formula so to speak, to a competitive collective was absolutely unacceptable. However, it is pretty obvious that we need to collaborate to remain competitive. We have to align ourselves so that our industry does not grow irrelevant and outdated among young talent.

We should be aware that young graduates have ample options. They are smart and talented and can go anywhere – therefore, we need to be on their top of mind and among their top most options.

Young, talented graduates need to know that we all are creative but only some of us will be lucky enough to earn our living by it. And those lucky ones are the advertising professionals.

Asim Naqvi is CEO, Ogilvy & Mather Pakistan.