Where to Find Tech-Focused Advertising Talent

With Branded Apps Gaining Ground, Five Spots to Look for Creative Technologists

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- As demand rises for digital campaigns and branded apps, shops are scouring for creative technologists: a rare breed familiar with technology and conversant with new forms of media, but also able to translate that know-how into compelling digital-branding vehicles.

Think of it as the Flash developer who understands branding, said Kat Egan, founder of digital and design boutique Exopolis. Or, as Allison Mooney of Mobile Behavior recently quipped in Ad Age, a technologist is part man, part tech nerd. For Conor Brady, chief creative officer of Omnicom-owned digital agency Organic, the technologist-and-brand-designer pairing needs to be the new art-director-and-copywriter creative team standard.

As they're charged with creating tools, services and software such as NikePlus, iPhone apps and even interactive touch-screen retail displays, shops are scrambling to bulk up on this new kind of agency creative. Ad Age checked in with digital agency folks and dug up five suggestions for where to look for this combination of web-head and brand steward.

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Look online, and pony up for visas
Hunt down the raw, international talent whose work ends up on sites such as Rob Ford's Favorite Website Awards, suggested Michael Ferdman, founder of New York-based Firstborn. You're not just gaining web designers, software engineers or 3-D specialists, but multicultural perspectives that will be worth the investment of getting often-expensive work visas.

"We have people from France, Brazil, London and Hyper Island [in Sweden]," he said. "We find and go after bigger names with digital pedigree and a following. I don't use placement services. Unless you are talking about a high-level strategy person, I'd rather spend $5,000 to $30,000 for a visa and moving expenses than pay for a service."

A digital strategist at an agency network also recommends scouring online groups such as Meetup.com. "There are Meet-ups for Android developers," he said. "That way you can tie into e-mail groups and see what's going on and get leads on people."

Tap digital-specialist schools
Look beyond portfolio schools to the growing group of programs that incubate tech-minded talent. Favorites include the Rochester Institute of Technology, the aforementioned Hyper Island, a Swedish digital-ad school, MIT's comparative media program and New York University's interactive telecommunications program. Also expected to be a breeding ground for new digital talent is Boulder Digital Works, a new stateside graduate program featuring mini-courses from Hyper Island.

Poach from design firms
Interaction and user-experience designers are keys to creating digital experiences and can often be found in design firms such as Frog Design and IDEO, suggested Andreas Combuechen, CEO and chief creative officer of BBDO's Atmosphere Proximity. This includes people with experience in information and content design, analytics, business strategy and consumer-profile development. "These designers come from different fields that are typically not traditional advertising industry talent, like industrial design, software design, architecture or ideation firms," he said.

Scoop up marketers from tech companies
Exopolis' Ms. Egan has found marketing people from tech companies such as Microsoft's Zune division especially adept at this tech-meets-brand strategy thinking. "They understand a large global brand and the cross between branding and innovation," she said. "That technology knowledge isn't anything without an understanding of branding."

Don't forget to look inside
Maybe you don't have to tap other industries to infuse agencies with tech know-how, said Scott Witt, executive creative director at TBWA/Digital Arts. "The thought that our survival can be underwritten by simply plucking talent from periphery industries is flawed," he said. "Sometimes the best talent pool is the one you dig yourself. Agencies must re-wire their environments so technology is viewed as an elemental part of their product. This starts with acknowledgment that technology is a creative function, and probably best belongs in the creative, rather than production, department."

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