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Media Buying Briefing: Flex workforce, fringe benefits are key to navigating the talent crisis

Illustration of four different people working at their desks.

The Great Resignation is leaving talent shortages across many industries, but media is perhaps seeing the sharp end of this — especially at agencies, where there are whispers of up to between 30 and 40 percent churn in personnel.

On the one hand, this forces agencies to rethink their staffing models from the ground up. And with possible cutbacks and a looming recession on the horizon, agency hiring and retention is shifting to new staffing models, consolidated services and greater prioritization of benefits and training programs. As the business world puts it, it’s “grow or die.”

The reasons why hiring and retention are getting harder are multifaceted. Current research shows agencies are dealing with a smaller talent pool, with programmatic roles and data analytics disciplines especially difficult to fill. That challenge is also augmented by more talent migrating over to technology companies, often where higher salaries and unlimited vacation dangle attractively. (More on that later.)

“The demand for programmatic talent has only increased so much in the last few years,” said Amelia Tran, senior director of marketing at WorkReduce, a data platform for staffing media talent. “Agencies and brands, especially with in-house media teams, have really struggled to grow and train their teams with this current hiring climate, and they’re going to look at new ways to source that talent.”

In fact, according to a joint survey by the World Federation of Advertisers and MediaSense in July, 85 percent of agencies believe there is a shortage of media talent in the market. That’s much higher compared to other sectors surveyed in the study, which showed an overall 77 percent finding a high scarcity of talent in their organizations across advertising, publishing and tech.

“With all the Big Tech layoffs… there was certainly been a kind of wait-and-see both from an employer perspective. And then from a talent perspective, a lot of people put their job search on hold, because they were afraid to be the last one in/first one out,” said Camille Fetter, founder and CEO of Talentfoot, a firm that helps major holding companies and independents with staffing needs.

To combat this, many agencies and holding companies are turning to third-party services, like WorkReduce, which takes care of recruiting, hiring and onboarding talent for agencies. It’s a process that becomes cumbersome when cutbacks come down in a recession, CEO Brian Dolan explained. Some of WorkReduce’s clients include Gannett, Publicis and Omnicom Media Group.

“Even though the economy is not growing as fast as we like, consumer spending has remained really strong — and advertisers want to be there in front of the consumer dollars,” Dolan told Digiday. “But pulling back budgets doesn’t really change the amount of work that has to get done… The flex talent option is actually really appealing for folks, because you don’t have the people on your books, and the work will come back.”

A third-party resource like WorkReduce can particularly help holding companies and agencies that are moving to a central services model. That means more organizations are consolidating their services and looking for cheaper ways to bring on people, which results in reshuffling existing talent as well. Outsourcing this work lets agencies move faster, sometimes as quickly as seven days to get people onboarded and ready to report, Tran said. WorkReduce already has the talent in place.

“The whole trying to figure out how to pull someone from a different account can sometimes turn out to be a nightmare,” Tran added, “because then that existing employee’s just stretched too thin. That’s really where I think we have the advantage of being an alternative staffing model, because then they’re looking to us to really fill that gap in a really fast way.”

Not only has hiring gotten more competitive, but expectations surrounding salaries and fringe benefits, as well as training resources and flexible locations, have contributed to the talent shortage within agencies. One major challenge is that ad tech ventures often offer higher salaries and more vacation, though, Dolan pointed out agencies can win out on benefits and salary expectations, which are starting to change after the pandemic.

“It’s not a really easy apples-to-apples comparison,” Dolan said. “Most of these companies pay the same amount no matter where [people] live… Now you have people saying, ‘if we want people to come back to the office, you should make more money in New York City.’ So people are really thinking about that question as it relates to remote and return to office.”

For some, salaries and generous compensation packages may have spiked in the last year as talent demand swelled, but Fetter said those offers are cooling off. And in a recession, employers are likelier to negotiate packages back to normalized levels.

“We saw a lot of employers offering doubling someone’s current compensation… to run paid media for a sizable retailer, right? They wanted the best of the best, and they wanted to capture market share while the world went digital. They saw the consumer frenzy,” Fetter said.

What’s more important to the current workforce, Tran added, is also better working conditions, regardless of the pay. People want more flexibility with hybrid work, extended holidays and breaks and access to the relevant training and learning resources. This is where agencies can lose people to jobs with more compelling perks, which is why learning and development has become the latest hot topic for employers.

“At the end of the day, it’s about providing resources and things that your employees want,” Tran said. “When it comes to training and development, that is an ongoing drum that you have to beat — it’s not just like a one and done deal.”

Recently, both GroupM and Kepler Group established their own learning and development programs aimed at helping employees pursue advanced careers and keep their skills fresh. The schools are meant to be a place for continued learning, said Brian Dashew, head of learning and development for GroupM North America.

“They continue to get content and practice opportunities related to both essential business functions and professional acumen — topics like business communication, tools-based training, and presentation skills,” Dashew said.

Fetter echoed the importance of employers showing they are invested in learning and development, especially for the younger workforce joining their companies.

“Organizations are recognizing that, especially with a heavy remote workforce, the learning opportunities had been limited,” Fetter said. “Historically, it’s always been one of the number one reasons why someone calls us looking for a new job. They feel complacent. They don’t feel like they’re growing… And, and that’s usually the talent that organizations want to hold on to.” — Antoinette Siu

Color by numbers

Seems consumers are starting to pay attention to the negative news surrounding the major tech platforms. So-called zero-party data platform Jebbit surveyed 2,500 consumers about their most trusted brands (Pepsico ranked tops) in the sixth edition of its Consumer Data Trust Index, and found that Google, Apple and Netflix all suffered considerable drops in positive consumer trust. Specifically, it found:

  • Google had the most precipitous drop, falling from No. 16 in Jebbit’s prior report to 89
  • Apple also dropped from No. 5 to 43
  • Netflix went from No. 8 to 45.
  • The highest ranking tech/platform brand was Amazon, which dropped one spot from No. 3 to 4.

Takeoff & landing

  • In a rare instance of cooperation, the Association of National Advertisers, the 4A’s (the trade group representing ad agencies) and the Alliance for Inclusive & Multicultural Marketing joined forces to craft guidelines to help diverse media companies work better and more effectively with marketers and agencies.
  • Independent agency holding company Meet the People struck a partnership with programmatic consultancy AI Digital to enhance its programmatic offerings. 
  • Personnel moves: GroupM’s EssenceMediacom promoted CMO Jill Kelly to U.S. CEO, effective Oct. 1, as Mediacom CEO Sasha Savic moves on to become the agency’s global chief innovation officer and Essence’s North American CEO Jason Harrison becomes chief solutions officer for data sibling Choreograph … Horizon Media named Roberto Alcazar evp and managing partner of its creative agency 305 Worldwide … Branding and design agency Basic/Dept promoted Ashley Reichel to CEO, replacing Matt Faulk.

Direct quote

“The industry has been sorely in need of additional measurement options for television as streaming and on-demand viewership have skyrocketed. Demographic panels are archaic when most viewership is on a digital, addressable device. Panel-based measurement has been very hard to deliver accurately in the past decade because of technological advances, so a new panel, based on today’s technology offers us all hope that measurement will be available once again and at a much more granular, and useful, level.”

Cognitiv CEO and co-founder Jeremy Fain, on the need for new measurement solutions in TV.

Speed reading

  • Digiday senior media editor Tim Peterson uncovered the deeper trends around Disney’s latest streaming numbers. Check out his story here
  • Digiday’s media agency reporter Antoinette Siu cataloged the ad categories that are growing and shrinking in a quasi-post-Covid world, according to MediaRadar’s latest report. 
  • I covered a recent report from Magna that offered best practices on how advertisers should use TikTok, which arguably is the hottest way to reach young and new audiences.
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