How ad agencies are adjusting hiring practices

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A game R/GA created internally in 2018 is getting a new function due to the spread of COVID-19: The game, NotSoFAQ, has been used at recruiting events before but will now be used to help hiring managers foster a more human connection and get to know potential candidates better, albeit digitally.

“We will be encouraging [hiring managers] to use a game created and used internally called NotSoFAQ,” wrote Angie Hannam, evp and global chief talent officer at R/GA, in an email when asked how coronavirus is changing hiring. At R/GA, video interviews are the norm for the start of the interview process for job candidates. Those will continue over the course of the next couple of weeks as the U.S. grapples with coronavirus; the agency expects it will continue to hire for open positions. “This tool gamifies the getting-to-know-you process by posing questions that usually remain unasked,” noted Hannam. “It allows participants to build connections through shared experience, empathy, and understanding, and we think it will act as a great proxy for face-to-face meetings during this time.”

The spread of COVID-19 in the U.S. is not only changing how agencies work but also how they are hiring. For some agencies it’s simply a change in interview tactics moving from in-person meetings to video chats to mitigate the risk of transmitting the virus via in-person contact. For others, the uncertainty has them reconsidering hiring for open positions at the moment and instead waiting to see what the long-term impact of the virus could be on their bottom line. Without knowing how severely the virus will impact the number of projects agencies will have in the coming weeks for employees to work on or if clients will drastically reduce what they are spending, agencies are left unable to know how many employees they need and whether or not they should continue hiring at the current moment.

Switching to video interviews and using digital tests to get to know candidates is also the case for digital agency 3Q. That said, the shop anticipates that it may take longer to hire for its open positions amid the uncertainty. “We are doing all of our interviews over video conferencing,” said CEO David Rodnitzky. “We still are hiring but I will tell you honestly that we are also very closely monitoring the economy. We’re being a little bit more selective now [because of] uncertainty with what will happen in the next couple months.”

As previously reported by Digiday, the uncertainty with projects to work on has experiential agencies worried about what their staff will work on or, depending how long it lasts, if they will need to layoff employees to manage overhead as experiential agencies are feeling the pinch. That sense of uncertainty has likely also delayed offers sent out to candidates for jobs at agencies. One media buyer who works in-house at a direct-to-consumer company (she asked for anonymity) shared that she was at the offer stage a performance marketing agency last week but that the shop has since ghosted her as the spread of the virus has gotten more serious in the U.S.

“I think the ghosting is directly because of coronavirus,” she said. “It feels like they’re just pushing it off to see what happens, that they don’t want to take on any additional salary or risk until they know what’s happening.”

Christie Cordes, a talent recruiter for advertising agencies, believes that a hiring freeze may occur in the coming weeks for lower-level employees across agencies but that recruiting for top tier positions will continue. That said, Cordes anticipates that it will be harder for agencies to recruit that top talent as they are less likely to change jobs in the current market. “My job is a bit more difficult as talent is shying away from considering making a move,” wrote Cordes in an email. “[But] identifying top talent will remain a CEO’s concern even in a global slowdown. The tight market over the past few years has executive hiring directors and CEO’s [used to] it taking months to find the right fits.”  

Not taking on additional risk is a position that the media buyer understands. If the agency did send her an offer, she’s unsure if she would take it amid the uncertainty. “Even if they come back to me and offer this one job offer — that’s probably leaps and bounds better than where I currently am — I would probably have some uncertainty in switching because of what’s going to be happening over the next 60 to 90 days,” she said.

If hiring does occur on-boarding those employees will also likely happen digitally rather than in-person. Should an employee be hired by R/GA in the coming weeks, the agency anticipates that on-boarding will also be remote but that it will be “doing so in groups to maintain the community aspect to the experience,” noted Hannam.

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