Even as our industry diversifies rapidly and offers more exciting opportunities for people to cultivate lasting and meaningful careers -- with speciaties like social media, mobile, performance marketing and integrated planning -- attracting and retaining talent continues to be one of our biggest challenges.
Just as Facebook, Google, and the enticing world of start-ups and tech firms have created more opportunities for advertising messages, these companies have also caused a mass exodus of top candidates from our industry by promising young professionals a world of greater possibilities and new horizons.
It's time to take a closer look at how we identify new talent. As the media landscape becomes more data-driven and fragmented, we need to concentrate on attracting talent that can bring a balance of left- and right-brain thinking to solve our clients' problems.
Historically we recruited people with cookie-cutter backgrounds, hiring graduates from schools with recognized advertising/media programs. Each entry-level hire had had at least one internship at a Madison Avenue agency. Over a career, an employee had to show continued growth, spending the requisite number of years in each position and winning highly-coveted awards.
Today, finding and cultivating top talent is much different. While we need people with the traditional pedigrees, we also must find hires with diverse backgrounds: scientists, engineers, psychologists. While undergraduate internships are still a wonderful learning opportunity, there's can be real value in hiring a doctoral student with a keen eye for analyzing and presenting data.
I recently hired a planner who had pursued a carpentry and design career after earning a bachelor's in history, but had decided to keep carpentry as a hobby. I was a bit skeptical about what he would bring to the table, but he proved me wrong. While we would need to invest in training and development, he had a natural ability to clearly and concisely communicate his vision for a position at our agency. He attributed these skills to his work in carpentry; his job was to understand a customer's need or vision, and provide a beautiful and useful solution. Isn't that exactly what our clients are expecting from us?
As you browse LinkedIn profiles and line up interviews, here are five "intangibles" to keep in mind when hiring this year's new talent:
Natural Curiosity. Hire people with a desire to investigate, who are eager to learn from others across disciplines and are constantly discovering, creating and innovating. I'm more interested in hearing about what a student learned while backpacking through Europe or volunteering in South America than the internship they checked off the list during their four-year college career. If they aren't comfortable challenging the status quo, they won't challenge yours or your client's.
Problem Solvers. Hire people who can adapt quickly and change course to deliver smarter and more effective solutions. A military "brat" who moved around a lot as a child and can tell me about how he adapted to new schools and learned to make new friends will probably make an excellent account person. These are transferable skills, and in a client-centric business, they are of the upmost importance.
Fun Under Pressure. Look for people who can find the fun in discovering a new insight after analyzing pages of data, learning everything about a client's new product in a single day or brainstorming late at night with colleagues. These people help create an atmosphere that encourages engagement, eliminates fear and produces better results for clients.
Excellent Storytelling Skills. This may seem like a given, but as communicating in 140 characters has become the norm, many new grads have lost the ability to tell a story. If a candidate has a hard time explaining why he or she is right for the job, chances are he or she will have trouble explaining why a strategy or idea is right for a client. Communication can be honed, to be sure, but basic skills must be there from the start.
Jugglers. I sometimes want to post a sign on my office door, "Wanted - Multi-taskers!" Agency careers are not for the faint of heart. We need people who can jump on an airplane at a moment's notice and while they are on their way to the airport, answer e-mails, take a call and tweet their client's latest news.
Great talent is right under our noses, and they are the key to the future of our industry. Let's find them.