Agency Talent Is Everywhere, And Nowhere

Agency Talent Is Everywhere, And Nowhere
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For two decades, Lea Walker (pictured below) has worked for and partnered with some of the most respected individuals and creative organisations in Australia, England and the US. Walker now offers independent and bespoke Talent Consultation in Recruitment, Talent Operations and Individual Career Coaching. In this guest post, she argues adland is at a crossroads when it comes to recruiting and retaining agency talent…

The brilliant David Terry said this to me about four years ago at Wieden + Kennedy while we were debating why we, as an industry, still felt compelled to own the talent vs borrowing it.

This didn’t used to be true. The truth was that, back in the day (like 10 years ago), the best agencies attracted, and retained, the best talent. It was a simple creative business model really. The better the work, the better the talent you could buy, so you bought more great talent and made more great work. They were at Fallon, or Mother, or BBH, or Droga, or Wieden. They were the end goal, the pinnacle, the agencies we were all working towards being acquired by.

But at the time of my discussion with DT, we were seeing a huge amount of momentum for world class creative talent in particular, to leave the comfort of their full-time jobs, and linear career paths, at the height of their career success, to pursue freedom and diversity.

We could, of course, see the appeal at the time. Particularly in the US where the best talent was commanding very generous day rates, working mainly from home and bursting away from the constraints of often working on only one client within their agency remits.

And let’s not talk about the triple dipping potential!

Fast forward a few years and we find ourselves and our industry at a talent crossroads.

With the layoffs the advertising community has experienced around the world since March, a global culling of talent like the industry has never experienced on mass, we have more talent available for freelance than I have personally seen in my 20-plus year career across three continents.

Coupled with the hardly new reality, that agencies are being asked to develop and produce more diverse output than ever before, for less money than they’ve ever made in the past.

We, the talent, are all working, mainly, from home.

We are unlikely to ever work 9 to 5, 5 days a week, in one place ever again.

It has never mattered less, where the talent actually is or when it is working.

So, do we still need to own the talent with all of these challenges and opportunities in mind?

Or should we, as an industry, evolve the business model to increasingly borrowing it?

I mean the brands have evolved their business model to increasingly borrow the agencies, so don’t we need to adjust eventually?

There are definitely benefits to the latter for agencies.

You may be able to borrow talent that you couldn’t attract full-time previously.

You could utilise talent from literally anywhere in the world.

You can borrow world class talent for important projects that you maybe can’t afford permanently.

You could take on projects that you couldn’t in the past, by pulling in relevant and unique skill sets for specific needs that may not be permanently useful to your agency offering.

It all makes plenty of pragmatic sense.

But the debate still isn’t over, because in truth, all we are as an industry, are collections of humans.

Sure, every agency in the world, has their own reason for being, their bespoke process, their own brand story, their unique approach. But really, deep down, the only difference between the good and the great, is the individuals in the building (and I would add, the values at the core of the company and the genuine appetite to be great, but that’s an opinion piece for another day).

So how would we differentiate one agency from another if they technically all had access to the same talent?

Would we end up in global bidding wars for the top 10 per cent?

Would the brands start hiring individuals instead of agencies?

Would we finally be able to stop talking about bespoke processes and planning tools?

Please can be stop talking about bespoke processes and planning tools?

It’s a conundrum isn’t it?!  And not one I can claim to know the answer to.

I have built a global business around a desire to connect world class talent with world class agencies and brands. Even my business model has had to pivot dramatically in its short three years of existence to ensure I am remaining relevant to both the talent and my global clients. Pursuing project-based opportunities for the talent that demands its freedom as well as more permanent solutions for the agencies committed to ownership.

Like most conflicts, I am sure the answer lies somewhere in the middle.

A scenario that allows agencies to strike their own balance between the permanent needs and the temporary solves.

A line between building a culture and providing consistency

A balance of external energy and pragmatic response.

In the meantime, I’ll be over here honing my Danny Ocean skills and hoping through all the ongoing uncertainty and confusion, the great talent continues to make great things with the great agencies and brands.

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Lea Walker

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