Storyboard18 | How some agencies are handling The Great Reshuffle

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Advertising agencies are hosting hiring fests, looking for talent in other fields and non-metros, and trying to shift to a people-first culture to attract and retain talent.

Four months ago, Rohan Mehta, CEO of digital marketing company Kinnect, rolled out a 10-day hiring fest to bring on board 100 people in middle- to entry-level positions across the company’s Delhi, Mumbai, and Bengaluru offices.

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By the end of the tenth day, HR had over 3,000 applications. The company went on a hiring spree to help the business as it scales up and to ease the load of festive season work.

Companies like Kinnect are fast-tracking recruitment and casting a wider net to fill talent gaps.

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The attrition rate in advertising has been a worry for most leading agencies for a while. According to Mehta, people don’t stick with agencies mainly because of better salaries offered on the client side, particularly by new-age companies looking to either set up or beef up internal marketing, creative and content engines.

Agency folks from big mainline and specialist ad companies moving to the client’s side is not a new phenomenon but it has increased since the pandemic started. What often tips the scale in favour of the other side are better pay and better work-life balance.

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Executives at several digital marketing services companies indicate that there is an industry-wide 10%-15% increase in pay scales offered to middle to senior-level people to attract and retain talent.

The great talent hunt 

Companies are also widening the pool they pick from. Advertising has always attracted people from different backgrounds. Biochemists and engineers have turned copywriters and art directors, creating ads to sell everything from sauces to soap.

So it was not surprising when a Mumbai-based digital shop White Rivers Media hired ‘content creators’ who were previously credit card salesmen and dental practitioners.

The agency conducted ‘hiring festivals’ to fast-track its recruitment process over the last 12 months. Several digital marketing companies have been heavily using Instagram in addition to LinkedIn to hire people.

Mitesh Kothari, CCO and co-founder, White Rivers Media, notes a critical cultural difference that he sees in today’s job market and job seeker. These days, he tells us, retaining talent actually comes across as restraining them from exploring newer avenues, interests and opportunities.

“With the opening of new industries and digital mediums, a wider range of employment opportunities have been created. This shift is one of the biggest differentiators when we compare today’s digital marketing scene to previous years,” he adds.

Fun and freedom: Make advertising great again

Advertising companies need to fix their cultures to bring back fun, freedom and opportunities to really grow.

Nisha Singhania, director and co-founder of an independent creative agency, Infectious Advertising, says agencies were meant to be fun and were known to build enriching creative experiences. “If they stop being that then talent will (obviously) move on,” she adds.

People are looking for “growth, empowerment, learning and flexibility in addition to great pay and perks. If you can provide that then they will stick to you,” she adds.

But if the culture is broken, then there’s no point in finding “culture fit” talent. Taking it one step further, organisations now need to look at and provide a “value fit” as well.

Lost copywriter to Netflix? 

Large legacy MNC and Indian brands, consumer internet companies, homegrown startups and international streamers are bringing a lot of talent in-house. Today, brand managers want to control and manage the majority of their advertising and creative requirements in-house.

It’s becoming increasingly easy for these well-funded companies to poach the best talent from cash-poor and culture-poor agencies with pay packets that pack a punch and the lure of greater opportunities.

Bodh Deb, vice-president of advertising agency AutumnGrey, also points out that as several startups are going public, the benefits for employees are also immense. A lot of young talent are realising the power of investing in the markets too. Brands are now leveraging this trend by offering employees ESOPs (employee stock ownership plans), including entry-level employees and new recruits.

But for a lot of the younger generation, it’s not all about the money.

Impact of the Great Reshuffle

In these Covid times, millennials and Gen Z employees are taking YOLO (you only live once) even more seriously. They are reevaluating priorities and looking for meaning, purpose or some measure of fulfilment in not just the work but also how they work.

Called The Great Reshuffle, this phenomenon is defined by a large-scale resignation by working professionals who are prioritizing both flexibility and fulfillment. In April 2021, according to LinkedIn data, globally two-thirds of the workforce has either left a job or is considering leaving a job.

Also read: 82% of Indian workforce considering changing jobs in 2022 : LinkedIn

Advertising has long-held the reputation of being one of the industries with the worst work-life balance track record.

A handful of established and newer companies, however, are trying to break away from that culture. Some recent efforts include week-long mandated year-end breaks and “switch off” days as agencies attempt to put people and their well-being first. There have also been more instances of agency executives standing up to clients and their unreasonable demands, to protect their people.

Need to hire for ‘culture add’  

A gradual change in culture is evident in how companies are also looking to tap different geographies for fresh talent.

Instead of looking at ‘culture fit’, firms would do well to also look at ‘culture add’ these days.

As WFH (work from home) has moved from novelty to norm and is widely accepted as the way forward, it’s a good time to bring more talent from beyond the metros. And with regional content booming, hiring talent from smaller cities and towns across the country gives these companies a bigger advantage.

Digital is moving in the direction of personalised and localised content. To make it more contextual to the users, Kinnect’s Mehta says, it’s the right time to diversify the agency’s talent pool too.

“This will give talent from the respective regions the chance to work on campaigns that they would never have access to, and for us, the chance to display and learn from the diverse richness of thoughts put into our work. If we want to communicate to the broader country efficiently, it’s important to partner with the ones experiencing the local sub-cultures in person,” adds Mehta.

In addition to widening the talent net, agencies are looking at ways to create hyper-specialist roles for talent that wants to focus on doing that one thing that they are really good at. Meanwhile, they are also giving people the flexibility to grow beyond their roles and evolve with the workforce’s needs.

As agencies face increasing pressure to stay relevant and keep businesses afloat, the biggest challenge for firms large and small is to retain and attract the talent that creates cutting-edge work which creates long-standing brands and consumer loyalty in the times of ephemeral viral successes.

What agencies are doing to attract and retain talent 

– Conducting ‘hiring fests’ to fast-track recruitment, fill gaps and ease workload

– 10-15% increase in pay to make offers and salaries more competitive

– Actively looking to hire talent outside of metros as work from home becomes the norm and regional content becomes even more popular

– Hiring people with different backgrounds and experience like credit card salesmen and dental practitioners as content creators

– Trying to break away from work-first to people-first cultures

– Focusing on employee work-life balance and well-being. Efforts include week-long year-end breaks and “switch off” days

– Creating hyper-specialised roles for talent that want to focus on doing one thing

– Empowering people and providing opportunities to grow beyond roles, to learn and upskill

– Looking at ‘culture add’ and not just ‘culture fit’

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