‘They’re shouldering a lot more work’: Confessions of an agency exec on how the war for talent is impacting existing staffers

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This article is part of our Confessions series, in which we trade anonymity for candor to get an unvarnished look at the people, processes and problems inside the industry. More from the series →

There’s a “war for talent” in advertising right now. With hiring freezes mostly over, agencies are competing with each other as well as clients and tech companies for top talent as the industry looks to fill positions that have been left open over the last year-and-a-half.

For our latest edition of our Confessions series, in which we exchange anonymity for candor, we hear from a holding company agency exec about the difficult environment he’s seeing in hiring now and how that’s impacting talent. This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Tell us about the difficulty in hiring you’re seeing right now. 

There’s a lot of people leaving agencies to go to tech companies and clients. The pipeline to backfill those roles can’t keep up with the demand. Also, once someone’s been given an offer they don’t just start the next day [so roles are empty for a while]. And anyone who’s half decent in this industry has lots of offers to mull over. 

People leaving agencies for tech companies or clients isn’t a new problem. Is it getting worse now? 

It’s the same. It might be a bit more pronounced now with more people hiring [to fill roles once hiring freezes due to the pandemic lifted]. Agencies are like talent nurseries for these other companies where people might get a better offer. 

Why do you think agencies are feeling the talent crunch so much right now? 

We all just went through a once in a century crisis. Every company is fighting to preserve all jobs, not to lose too much money, not to damage cash flow, not to hurt the balance sheet. Hiring is a massive cost. Property and hiring are the two biggest costs for any company. So hiring has gone on freeze for a lot of companies — it’s not just an agency problem — and the demand has not gone down for talent. All of those jobs need to be backfilled. There’s more competition and choice. 

With roles being left open for a long time there must be a lot of pressure on the employees still at agencies to pitch in and take on more work. 

It puts more pressure on the people who’ve kept their jobs and stayed because they’re shouldering a lot more work while they are trying to backfill those roles. That’s where the trouble is. Imagine having to do [the work of] four or five people, think about what that’s doing to your brain. I don’t think a lot of people who may be in leadership teams really have an understanding of, or empathy for, what it’s like [to have to take on that work load]. 

What should agencies do to be more competitive in this environment?

It’s difficult. There’s competition from all sides. I don’t have a good answer for that. But something has to change. Lumbering people with more work than they’re paid for — people get paid for one job, and no matter how big that title is or what they’re paid they’re paid for one job, not ten or twenty. That’s a big issue [for people] right now, especially if you’re on a demanding account with a lot of high volume work. 


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