To Grow Talent in Belgium, Proximity BBDO Opens 'the Farm'

Agency-Within-Agency Allows Young Recruits to Work on Shop's Top Accounts

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LONDON (AdAge.com) -- Tough competition from hot creative shops in the region has made it challenging for Proximity BBDO in Brussels, Belgium, to recruit good quality graduates, even in the current economic climate. So it decided to do something about it.

The Farm is an agency-within-an-agency in which young recruits will get a chance to work on many of Proximity BBDO's top accounts.
The Farm is an agency-within-an-agency in which young recruits will get a chance to work on many of Proximity BBDO's top accounts.
So the agency's board directed Lander Janssens, online art director at Proximity BBDO, to find the brightest graduates, and he came up with a new recruitment process to widen the 2-year-old agency's talent pool.

His idea was to set up the Farm: an agency-within-an-agency in which 12 young recruits will get a chance to work on many of Proximity BBDO's top accounts, including Pepsi, Nestle and ING.

"We called it the Farm because we want to grow creative talent," Mr. Janssens said, and help those new to their jobs to gain necessary experience.

The apprentices will work in conjunction with the main agency on some projects as well as on extra, more experimental briefs, which the agency's clients have created to test the graduates. There will also be internal briefs, starting with a concept to promote their own team.

'Reverse apprenticeship'
Mr. Janssens visited with marketing, advertising and design students at colleges in May and June and set up a website to find the talent he was looking for, an effort that yielded 90 applications for the 12 slots. Three of the successful applicants are people who have lost their jobs recently -- but none has more than two years of experience.

"I call it a 'reverse apprenticeship,' because it allows younger people a lot more responsibility than if they were working in the main agency, where they could get lost," Mr. Janssens said. "They are working on their own projects, and they are as important as someone in a middle-management job in the main agency."

Screening young applicants for the Farm.
Screening young applicants for the Farm.
As well as gaining practical experience by working on client briefs, the graduates will undergo an intensive training program covering everything from budgets, to idea generation and selection, to how to create viral campaigns.

The 12 apprentices start their one-month work placement this week. They are not being paid, but instead are getting free lodging, plus cleaning service, in a big mansion just outside Brussels that is owned by Proximity BBDO.

At the end of the month, one student will win the accolade of top apprentice, and he or she will get $7,000 and six weeks of work experience at Proximity London.

Mr. Janssens hopes that the Farm will expand to be an ongoing project. "It if wasn't for the economic crisis, I'd like all 12 to start, but our main philosophy is to hire six new grads every year. They are cheaper, more driven, ambitious, and they have lots of ideas -- things that senior board members wouldn't think of because they haven't been bred with technology."

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