In Recession, McCann Seeks Hires With Immediate Payoff

Plus, the Interpublic Agency's Unsolicited Advice for Job Seekers

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Leslie Long
Leslie Long
Chris Cutone
Chris Cutone

The recruitment of senior talent at advertising agencies has declined dramatically since the recession began, but strategic planning, creative and digital remain highly competitive disciplines. At McCann Erickson New York, we continue to identify, follow and maintain conversations with the leading talent in these specialties, especially those with multi-channel experience. In fact, our digital department is experiencing a surge in growth; the team has tripled in size within the last 10 to 12 months, including the addition of Faris Yakob as chief technology strategist in November.

Like all agencies large and small, McCann has had to reduce staff to remain competitive and to match client needs. Earlier this year, we had layoffs of about 5% of staff. We do not have an official hiring freeze, but, obviously, in this economy, we assess every potential hire with extraordinary care. We are focusing our conversations on potential employees and opportunities that could generate immediate growth for the agency or enhance our clients' business, which is most likely at the most senior level, but still possible at the entry level.

A few weeks ago, we hired a high-profile C-level executive, David Jenkins, to serve in the newly created position of chief of brand growth and innovation. We also promoted Matt Weiss, our chief growth officer, to the same role. Changes in the industry mean that we need to apply more assets to growing, innovating and expanding the possibilities of our current clients, and so recruitment efforts reflect that goal.

Our strategy
So what's our strategy right now? It's to reach out and get to know senior talent even when we don't need people immediately. We want to build up our intellectual resources now so we are positioned to move very aggressively when the economy rebounds. We're developing a "ready-to-hire" list so we waste no time in making the next great hire. Under normal circumstances, agency recruiters are reactive, scrambling to fill positions when new business is won. Today, we're in the opposite situation and, quite honestly, we love it -- we're thrilled to be having so many meaningful conversations with so many smart, dedicated and multifaceted people.

Our recruiting department is more active and dynamic than ever. We continually meet with prospective candidates for senior positions on an exploratory basis; we continue to update our database of possible recruits and the industry stars we'd like to talk to. While there are a variety of effective recruiting resources, social and professional networking is still one the best avenues for us to connect with our target audience of talent.

Although we hire individuals for specific senior-level positions, our strategy is to recruit candidates who are specifically interested in, and aligned with, our agency brand. We look for people who will match up with and enhance our entrepreneurial approach, our "open philosophy," and our creative and strategic goals -- people who can make an immediate impact for us and our clients.

That said, we're still active at the entry-level, attending more recruiting fairs and events than ever, engaging with multiple colleges. In the first quarter of 2009 alone, our senior staff visited 21 colleges or job fairs. We have retained our comprehensive summer internship program at full speed. This year, from more than 300 applications, we have hired 30 extremely qualified and motivated interns. Our interns work alongside all of our top talent, gain firsthand experience in the whole branding process, interact with staff across all agency levels and disciplines, present ideas and, critically, have a great deal of fun.

Leslie Long is director of recruitment at McCann Erickson, New York.
Chris Cutone is director of human resources at McCann Erickson, New York.

We are also working on our diversity and inclusion efforts across every agency discipline and at every level of employment. Following the philosophy of Lori Senecal, president of our office, we believe we should be an innovator and leader in diversity, not only for the social good but also because diversity empirically has been shown to increase creativity.

Our advice
Here's our unsolicited advice to entry-level job seekers, no matter what the economic conditions:

  1. If you want to pursue a career at a big agency, work hard on your personal brand to differentiate yourself and identify what strengths you can add to the agency mix.
  2. Be able to show and discuss what projects you have worked on that have had an impact in the real world; what kinds of ideas you have and how you think; and what kinds of opportunities you might create for yourself and the agency.
  3. Network vigorously and ask people for their experience and advice.
  4. Follow closely the leading talent at the agency you are targeting so you can explain why you want to work there, as opposed to all other agencies.
  5. Network your way inside the agency and obtain an internal referral, which always carries more weight than any other reference.

And, even if you have experience and are currently employed, this is a good time to start a dialogue with agencies you might be interested in down the road. We call it "actively listening" for the future.

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