Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Love Me, Teach Me, Never, Never Leave Me

Published in Mar-Apr 2020

What agencies must do to retain their top creative talent.

Creatives are a fickle lot. We are temperamental, unpredictable and sometimes downright hard to handle. Yet, whether you love us or not, the truth is, agencies need us to grow their existing business and win new ones. And in case you thought that our industry is overflowing with talent, think again. Good creatives are hard to find, especially professional people who are punctual, disciplined and self-governing. This type is usually in high demand and they know it, which is why agencies invest a lot in making sure they are happy where they are. And given that every creative has his or her own trademark way of working, it is a difficult task to replace them when they leave, especially if they are on a first-name basis with clients.

So how do agencies attract new talent? More importantly, how do they get them to stick around for the long run?

1. Show Us The Money

Let’s start with the obvious: Moolah. Cash. The Green. Creatives may not be great with numbers but they certainly like to be paid well for what they do, especially if they are good at it. So, if the agency they work for is not compensating them well, chances are they will switch to an agency (even a smaller one) that is willing to shell out the dough. And don’t forget, competing agencies are not the only lucrative avenues for creative folk nowadays. Digital agencies are always on the lookout for bright minds and are an attractive avenue for creatives looking to escape the rut of traditional advertising.

More experienced and ambitious creatives go on to open their own agencies, production houses or event management setups or become independent photographers, directors and freelance consultants for agencies and brands. Such avenues, if explored successfully, allow them to work on their own terms and make a lot more money.

2. Tell Us We Are Worth It

As important as a good salary is, money is not the only way to make creatives feel valued. Some agencies hold internal monthly award ceremonies for outstanding performance, which can be a great way to motivate individuals and highlight their achievements (in an otherwise thankless industry). Good agencies regularly invest in training by sending their creatives to workshops and seminars, which eventually give back to the agency.

Of course, there is always the risk of training an individual who may join a competing agency, but it is still a smaller risk than never investing in your own people at all. Above everything else, if you were to ask me, I usually feel the most valued when my agency puts their trust in me. For example, I will never forget the first time my CEO allowed me to present to a client without even reviewing the work. It gave me confidence as well as a great sense of responsibility and the eagerness to deliver. That feeling is something that money can’t buy.

3. Let Us Fly!

No creative person wants to be strapped to a desk, bombarded with work and scrutinised to death by his or her seniors (yes, such agencies do exist). Creative agencies should never try to operate like government offices. It should be less ‘work, work, work’ and more ‘work, play, work’. Creative people favour agencies that have younger teams and liberal work cultures; they crave environments where they can work freely and explore their potential without unnecessary restrictions. Issues such as inter-office politics and habitually late working hours can dent the reputation of an agency and send talent running in the opposite direction.

Simply put, creatives need to enjoy where they work and a balanced work-play agency culture is one of the best ways to attract new talent and increase overall productivity and retention. Of course, that doesn’t mean giving people the licence to stroll in at 11 a.m. and take three-hour lunch breaks every day. What it means is that creatives should be given the flexibility to work on their own terms without their methods being questioned, as long as they deliver quality consistently and in a timely manner. Any agency that promises this type of culture is nothing short of utopic for creatives.

4. Know Our Role

Talented creatives are not just good at drumming up catchy ideas. If they are really good, they will be efficient problem-solvers and have exceptional communication, writing and interpersonal skills – which is why, the most experienced of them end up in de facto leadership roles. It is also why some end up doing a lot of the non-creative agency work. It isn’t unusual to find creatives spending time corresponding with clients and regional partners even though it is not part of their job description. Creatives are also often expected to lead presentations, briefing sessions, con-calls and boardroom meetings (even in scenarios where creative input is not required), often just because they happen to be the most qualified people to do so.

To prevent creatives from becoming overburdened, agencies must invest in giving them a capable support system that enables them to focus on producing creative work as opposed to getting bogged down in daily office chores. A strong strategy division, diligent client service team and supportive creative colleagues make for the best alliances in producing quality work. Without these, it is virtually impossible for creatives to get any real creative work done.

5. Keep Some, Lose Some

Although there are measures (such as the above) agencies can adopt to increase retention, there is no fool-proof tactic to stop creatives from leaving. The last few year alone proved that even the most established agencies are not immune to rampant turnover. This said, some agencies are better at holding on to their people, just as there are agencies notorious for driving talent away. Sometimes it has less to do with agency practices and more to do with lack of loyalty among creatives who have zero qualms about hopping back and forth between agencies at the drop of a hat.

But one thing is for sure; as competition increases, talented creatives will have many more avenues to explore, which means more reasons to move and less reasons to stick around in a single place. Agencies need to do their best in making sure that they appreciate and value their creatives and maintain a culture that not only fosters creative growth, but continually attracts new talent. Apart from that, everything else is fair game.

Taimur Tajik formerly worked as Head of Creative, Manhattan International.