Glut of Talent Not All Good for Hiring Agencies

Not Everyone Out of Work Was Cut for Budgetary Reasons

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NEW YORK ( -- Like most other business sectors, the marketing industry has done its part in helping to lengthen unemployment lines around the world. Global networks such as Omnicom Group and WPP, along with large international independent shops, have laid off tens of thousands from entry level to the C-suite in the past 12 months, creating an overflowing talent pool.

For agencies that are hiring -- and there are a number of them -- this brings with it both some good and some bad. The good: more unsolicited résumés, senior-level talent with skills from wider disciplines and less reliance on recruitment agencies. The bad: too many people to choose from, people fudging the truth about why they were let go and talent that may not be that talented after all.

Helen Hibbott, chief talent officer at Omnicom's Rapp, said she views this as a market correction. "Before the bottom fell out of the economy, we had really gotten into a war for talent that was unprecedented," she said. "So in some ways this may be some sort of a correction going on similar to the financial markets." The agency has hired roughly 100 people in North America since January.

While a good percentage of employee cuts made by agencies have been budget-related, one would be naive to think some shops didn't use the economic slide to trim the fat. "So while there is obviously a greater quantity, the quality may not necessarily be there," Ms. Hibbott said. "I certainly don't hold it against anyone that they have been laid off, but I rely on the filters that we put in place to screen through what kind of talent is going to work for us."

Karen Tripi, president of recruitment agency Karen Tripi Associates, said, "The internet has become overcrowded with people trying to stand out from the rest and grab attention. "We've actually started hearing concerns about the validity of the statements people make about themselves online."

Crossing over
Tim Cecere, human-resources director at WPP's Group M, which oversees MindShare, MediaCom and Mediaedge:cia, said one of the benefits he has seen is an influx of talent from other marketing disciplines. "We have people from nontraditional media roles applying for positions in our organizations and trying to translate their skills to things like account management, which are traditionally full-service-agencies roles," Mr. Cecere said. "They are looking to make their way into our world, and that's a good thing."

Bill Manfredi, exec VP-global talent management for WPP's Wunderman and Y&R, said he looks in different places for talent now. "On the direct side, technology has really driven things, and it has radically changed, so you're really driving more toward technological people than you would have before," he said. "There isn't one-size-fits-all. You have to look at your market."

Maybe even more challenging than screening and hiring unemployed agency people is wooing the currently employed. Many human-resources executives said trying to recruit someone from another shop a few months back was a lost cause, since most were content just being employed and didn't want to chance getting caught looking for another job or becoming the low man on the totem pole at a new agency.

Agnes Gioconda, global chief talent officer Omnicom's Fleishman Hillard, which has hired nearly 200 people since the start of the year, said there are two factors at the root of this problem: job security and the housing market. "People secure in their job don't want to move out of it in a risky environment," Ms. Gioconda said. "Housing is the other issue, because no one wants to take a loss on their house, and they are afraid it won't even sell."

She said an agency can try to accommodate top talent by offering them positions in the closest market, but there's only so much enticement the agency can offer. "There really aren't too many creative things you can do," she said. "We're not going to buy people's houses."

But Rapp's Ms. Hibbott said she's started to notice a sea change. Employed people have begun to venture out for meetings to see what opportunities are available. "There's a perverse reaction in some ways, because people are feeling like there aren't as many options as there were before, so now they will accept a call."

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