"They're 800-pound gorillas that can outspend you and out-recruit you and be all over the place, whereas you only have a finite amount of resources," says Aaron Batte, partner in Faction Media, a Denver-based digital agency.
But whether you're client or agency, big or small, there are actually ways you can compete with these giant suction machines and keep your digitally deft candidates and employees from being pulled away.
Instead of some inevitable victim of the industry's quantum physics, think of yourself as a David to Google's Goliath. David had only a slingshot and five smooth stones to go up against the Philistine. But you can mix and match from these 10 ideas:
|1.||TELL YOUR OWN STORY|
That usually spells opportunity for staffers at outfits such as ePrize, an advergaming agency in Pleasant Ridge, Mich. that grew 40% last year. "It's difficult to have an impact at Microsoft as employee No. 111,000," says CEO Josh Linkner. "We're the category killer in the industry, but we're small enough for people to feel they can make a difference."
Perceiving such opportunities can be the crucial employer determinant for many digitally capable young marketers.
|2.||EMPHASIZE YOUR STRENGTHS|
Mike Devereux, executive director-digital marketing for General Motors, promotes "the attractiveness of being a digital marketer" at a large brand. "It's very different than being a subject-matter expert in search. What we're selling is sexy, because you literally get to change the way marketing works."
|3.||EXPLORE THE MARGINS|
And nothing intrigues talented and capable people, digital or otherwise, like the recommendation of a friend or peer. For example, Cambridge, Mass.-based Sapient relies on employee referrals for 39% of its hires.
|4.||STOKE THE HOME FIRES|
Many digital talents simply love home cooking. "My family is here, and my husband has a great career in Michigan, too," says Susan Walton, the 43-year-old digital manager of GM's Saturn brand. "The fact that my kids are in a city with their grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins is really important to me."
|5.||DON'T BECOME THE GREATER FOOL|
Spark Communications performs vigorous vetting to make sure it's getting people who are entrepreneurial as well as digitally capable. They must demonstrate a "cross-functional understanding" and the ability to be "comfortable in an adaptive environment," says Ken Zasky, president of the Chicago-based unit of Starcom MediaVest Group.
|6.||TEACH THEM YOURSELF|
Prasida Newman spurred Avenue A/ Razorfish to make a two-year commitment to a leadership-development program at LinkShare. She rotates every six months or so through a new department of the New York-based affiliate-marketing firm. "They're investing in me," says the 30-year-old Ms. Newman says, "so I'm investing in them."
|7.||CREATE A COMPELLING CULTURE|
What are the components? Vast opportunities to expand skill sets and profit financially from the $50 million company's success. Real permission to challenge authority. Quick exits for people who don't get it. Monthly half-day sessions with Mr. Linkner for those who join the 350-employee organization. There's even an internally published book about the ePrize culture.
|8.||TAP INTO OTHER PASSIONS|
"They get to come and work on stuff that they really can get excited about," says Robert Tas, founder and CEO. Mr. Tas further endears Sportgenic to the employee base by offering what he calls "little perks, such as gym memberships and paying their race-entry fees that reinforce their lifestyle and their commitment to their passion."
|9.||PROVIDE BENEFITS THAT DELIGHT|
That's why, for example, Gogi Gupta, founder of Gupta Media, has done things such as purchase a PlayStation 3 system for one employee's second anniversary. Spark recently provided a "technology allowance" to each of its 100 employees. Amounts varied by level, but Mr. Zasky says that everyone was supposed to use it "to up your game in the digital space." And Faction springs quarterly gifts on its staff that have ranged from new video iPods to a season's ski pass to the Winter Park resort.
|10.||GIVE THEM A DOG IN THE HUNT|
Sarkissian Mason has been willing to go even further. The New York interactive agency created a distinct unit and stock options around an e-tailing initiative called Shopnik that will reward participants over a three-year period if the venture is sold.
"I have a lot of people with 10 to 12 years in the industry who want some skin in the game, not just salary," said CEO Patrick Sarkissian. "The product itself has come out so much stronger because people cared about it at a different level. It was their baby."