Recruiting Tips for the Small Agency

How to Impress the Young Candidate Blinded by Big-City Lights

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Maureen Hall Maureen Hall
What makes recruiting for a small-town ad agency feel like being picked last in gym class? We wait our turn while the big shops are picked first, but there's something those job hunters might not know: The small kid throws a mean curve ball.

But getting the chance to prove our mettle to the talent is difficult. High-profile agencies, big-city lights and bigger paychecks may seem like unfair competition. And who could blame a rising young star to go for what looks like the best career move -- especially if she's learned to equate "big" with success? Great hires, though, can transform an agency, so get ready to duke it out for the good ones and bring 'em home to your town.

Here are some tips to find, attract and impress those candidates.

Know your strengths: Play up what the other guys can't offer. What makes your small shop better? What is your agency culture? Why should they pick you if you're just another ad agency with a foosball table and cool digs?

Look within : One of our best copywriters was originally our receptionist. We loved his quirkiness and saw his untapped talent. We have an amazing producer that started as a project manager and a great office manager that launched her career as an account executive. You may have a hidden gem right under your own roof.

Leave no stone unturned: By all means get the word out. Post job openings online with the likes of Talent Zoo and Creative Hotlist. And don't think creative sites are for creatives only. Account executives want to work at a place that values great creative too. Many schools allot interview days for agencies. Be there and be the one that everyone talks about. Nurture young talent. Bring on the interns, you may just find your next strong designer. Also don't forget to look outside the industry into the corporate and non-profit arenas.

Ask the right questions: Show your candidate that the thing you care most about is not how computer savvy they are but how they think. Push them into a real conversation. What authors have influenced them? Who are their mentors? What is their viewpoint on advertising? In a tough race to recruit a CD who had options on both the East and West Coasts, it came down to a few well-asked questions that mattered to him. And in return, he was offered the job because of a few questions answered well.

If you've got it, flaunt it: ADDY awards, EFFIEs, Pencils -- whatever awards your agency has earned, you've earned to right to show them off. Winning awards says that you value great work. Many newspapers publish Best Places to Work sections that highlight dynamic workplaces. Make sure you nominate your firm. Check out to see if there's one in your area.

It's not just a job; it's her life: It's important for candidates to know what life outside the office looks like. Play a customized playlist as you ride around showing off the city's architectural details, popular neighborhoods, favorite hangouts and a few of the agency's billboards. Put together a welcome package with maps, cultural events and restaurant guides. If you know you will be flying her in only once before an offer is made, then by all means invite the spouse or significant other. Arrange for a real estate agent to show her around to get a sense of home options.

Be real: Many a recruit is won over by the way she is treated. Just be authentic and avoid contrived interviews anyway you can. Don't get all gussied up for dinner. Invite the whole gang and go to one of your favorite haunts. And remember what Hal Riney said: "Hire people, not portfolios. People are more fun at Christmas parties."

What now? VoilĂ , you've found the perfect person. Now invest in her. If she is moving from a larger city, suggest checking salary comparisons with a cost-of-living calculator such as the one on Offer to cover moving expenses to show that you're willing to share in the risk of relocation. Upon her arrival, you may want to tell the world, but celebrate carefully, as your friendly competition will be watching.

Of course, getting her to your town is one thing, keeping her ... well that's a whole other subject to be tackled next week.
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