The paradox of life in agencies is that there are the haves and the have-nots. Many agency employees are at risk of downsizing, while there are others who are in hot demand.
Cracking into some agency fields (creative, say) is a tough task. Yet there are burgeoning areas like analytics and tech development where agencies say they are struggling to hire enough of the right people. As marketing and advertising become less about messaging and more about products, services and platforms, agencies are increasingly seeking a unique blend of creativity and technical know-how that can help power those ideas.
“Agencies are all trying to sell these innovation-type ideas these days, and those require great conceptual thinkers that understand technology, too,” said David Kim, group digital creative director at Deutsch LA. “It’s people with a more diverse set of skills but that are really good in at least one area. They need to have a good understanding of what it is everyone else on a team does.”
Agencies continue to face particular challenges hiring younger, junior to mid-level digital staffers, Kim said, as their skill sets remain in fierce competition from startups and technology companies alike. Staffers at that level are often at a point in their lives when joining a startup really isn’t viewed as that much of a risk. They have fewer responsibilities and are generally fairly confident in their ability to find work elsewhere if things don’t go according to plan.
An AKQA spokesperson said that dynamic is more pronounced in places like San Francisco, where tech giants and startups are fishing from the same talent pool. AKQA itself is currently hiring across the board: from creative technology, to strategy, to account people. Ironically, it’s even on the lookout for a senior director of recruiting after Jennifer Remling left to join R/GA last month.
But according to Andrea Bredau, vp of human resources at Huge, different agencies face different hiring challenges based on their focus and heritage. Huge, for example, finds it harder surfacing suitable mid-level staffers than it does junior ones, specifically on the technology side.
“We have a strong reputation in design and user experience, but for us, the bigger challenge is attracting talent in technology, and at the tech director level,” Bredau said. “Those more complex roles are the hardest for us for us to find in the market. We look for people that are well-rounded. They need to have the sophisticated skill set but need to be able to go in front of clients and help build our business and add to our culture.”
Almost all the major digital agencies list a range of specific vacancies on their websites, but in reality, most say they’re looking to hear from anyone that fits the bill of being entrepreneurial, creative and digital savvy.
Agency executives agree it’s often more about a person’s mindset when it comes to hiring than it is about specific experience or capabilities. Those can always be learned.
But finding those people is a sizeable task in itself. Huge currently has a recruiting team of seven and received over 30,000 applications last year, Bredau said. But again, it’s more about finding people who fit the culture and ethos of Huge than about filling positions for the sake of it, she emphasized. “We have a standard hiring process, but we’ll find a place for the best and brightest people.”
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