Get Great Hires to 'Boomerang' Back to You

Three Ways to Lure Talent Back

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Val DiFebo
Val DiFebo
The agency industry has one priceless asset: our people. But real talent is an endangered species. Agency leaders have been politely dancing around the issue, perhaps hoping it will go away. Not a chance. Industries that are emerging and developing around ours, coupled with a seeming lack of a clear direction on the part of agencies to provide career tracks for young, gifted people, have nearly crippled the agency industry.

Talent acquisition is certainly half the equation, but I'll save that for another day. The other half is, of course, retention.

Too many of us wonder, as great talent walks out the door: What would it take to get those people to stay? And would they ever consider coming back -- and what do agencies need to do to get them back?

In the past year, we have welcomed back 57 talented people whom we affectionately call our "boomerangers." We also have many who have stayed at our agency for more than eight years.

Based on our experience, I believe there's a strategy for creating and nurturing a "boomerang effect."


Until you put that stake in the ground and make certain that every last employee knows what you stand for, and you're willing to prove it, you're awash in vacant mission statements.

One of our boomerangers was quoted as stating upon return that while he liked the firm he had joined, he was driven to return because "the new place just wasn't Deutsch." Not only did he know the agency's brand, he wanted to be part of it again. One example of how we cultivate our agency brand is Spark, a voluntary, fast-paced program that engages and challenges our employees.
Val DiFebo is president of Deutsch, New York. Her experience includes clients such as Procter & Gamble and Nabisco Brands.
The program embodies all that we stand for: innovation, entrepreneurialism, inclusion, collaboration and opportunity. Working off a brand brief, the goal is to create "napkin ideas" that take our clients' businesses into new territories and challenge the norm.


When we talk about a candidate for a position, at any level, we often discuss whether the person is "Deutsch" or not. While I'm sure assessing chemistry between company and candidate happens at other companies, the way we talk about it here is a little different. We seek the intangibles: How do they present themselves? Assessing potential based on stories candidates share about work and life experiences is one tactic. Listening carefully to the language they use is critical. And most candidates should go through a rigorous interviewing process.


That starts with your physical space, the way you encourage people to communicate and reward them for collaboration, the way you inspire and motivate your team. Upon return, a media boomeranger said the environment was key for him: "This is not a dull space, the city views are outstanding, and the open-air feel of the office promotes conversation and collaboration. As a result, people talk more; they don't feel trapped in an office, and the work reflects the energy the space promotes." Create comfortable, impromptu meeting areas; mix up your seating so that people sit with, and learn from, other disciplines; organize a monthly birthday party. And realize that people need to know that they are noticed and appreciated for their participation. When the agency wins, be inclusive; everyone should share in that success, not just the new-business team. Finally, one of the best motivators is to provide honest feedback, with actionable suggestions.

You can't be all things to all people. But you can offer people a clear, focused path, one where employees play an important role. Only some will love it and will last long enough to make a difference. Those are the "some" you want to stay. And when they get an itch, you want them to scratch, and learn -- and come back.
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