Quit Complaining About Talent and Do Something

An Ad Age Editorial

Published on .

At the 4A's conference in Austin, Texas, perhaps the only thing more prolific than the barbecue and TexMex was the talk of an industry talent crisis.

Three of the Big Four holding-company chiefs lamented that the advertising sector sucks at recruitment -- it doesn't have the presence on the major college campuses that a McKinsey or an Accenture does and, thus, doesn't get the kind of people entering the industry those firms do. They lamented the lack of diversity, the piddly incentives and the relatively small commitment to continuing training. As Interpublic CEO Michael Roth put it: "No one wakes up in the morning and says, 'I want to be in the advertising business.'"

Meanwhile, Arnold CEO Andrew Benett revealed an industry churn level that makes banks look good.

But it all felt so familiar.

We heard the talent tune last year from Nick Brien and Rishad Tobaccowala, who called for a greater diversity of skill sets and giving up the traditional rites-of-passage model. At the 2007 4A's management conference, hallway chatter focused on the dearth of digital talent. And in 2004, attracting new talent was cited as a major case for launching the annual Advertising Week.

So why haven't things changed? For one, agencies don't pay enough to lure smart, entry-level talent from more-lucrative jobs in the consulting, financial or technology fields. There's the lack of continuing education, always the first thing cut when margins get tight.

Finally, some questioned whether we're fostering the kind of inspiration and excitement the industry needs to attract the best and brightest. Just gaze out into the sea of white, middle-age faces in the audience at any industry conference for the answer.

How about next year loading the stage -- and the audience -- with young, ambitious, tech-savvy folk? How about supporting teaching institutions the way other industries -- such as medicine or law do -- with endowments to help ensure a broad range of qualified candidates?

All are good ideas. In short, it's time to stop talking and start making progress. Said Omnicom CEO John Wren: "The industry has spent very little time educating its staff ... and I think you'll see a renewed commitment, certainly by Omnicom and also by others, in terms of educating people."

We'll hold you to that.

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