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Retaining Agency Talent
By: Dwayne W. Waite Jr.
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As agencies posture themselves against one another in an effort to win the attention of organizations, the new business team may try to woo prospective clients in several ways. First, the shop may harp on the previous big-time accounts they have had. Then they may coax them with the jargon AdFolks are so good at. They will tell the client that their approach is completely different than other shops. They'll throw out words and phrases like "reverse 360," "unconventional," and "flattened structure." They will tell the client that their mission is to find the creativity that lies within their brand, and let it breathe.

After all of that, they might finally get to the element that usually wins: the people.

AdLand has been facing a creative exodus and drought not because the talent isn't there, but the talent is consistently used and abused. As a young(er) marketing manager at an agency, we were privy to a conversation with our media director, and they said that the executive's philosophy for mentoring us young ones were "throwing [us] to the wall and see who sticks."


The sad part is that it is not new and has gotten worse as the recession lingered and agencies have had to go into do-or-die mode. Organizations — ad shops included — try to maximize profits by reducing costs, especially when the increase of revenue seems like a harder mountain to climb.

Nicola Clark of Marketing Magazine makes this point quite clear. In her latest article, she points out that businesses should set sights on purpose and reward employees, instead of focusing first and only on the bottom line. Clark specifically emphasizes rewarding employees. A survey done by Calling Brands found that 52% of employees rank "pay and benefits" as one of the highest motivating factors, and 65% said that "purpose" would motivate them to go the extra mile. Agencies that engage in the "burn and churn" model of talent recruiting and retainment will more than likely fail at delivering in both aspects.

Steve Hall from AdRants brings up another good point. He is tracking some of the discussion that will be going on at Cannes Lions, and one of them happens to be about "Ending the Agency Talent Rotisserie." Hall, in like fashion as Clark, laments the lack of focus businesses have on rewarding their people. Hall too concludes that all businesses care about is the bottom line, and he adds that the only way ad people can move up the food chain is from skipping from agency to agency. The people on the panel, Deutsch LA, also released three videos that highlight the stereostypes of creatives, accounts, and producers. The videos are full of expletives (because nothing is more unconventional and angrier than rants laced with the F-bomb) and end with the fact that 1/3 of people annually leave agencies.

At least one of the videos has a black girl. Yay Diversity!

Hall and Clark are right. Until the business community  — as a whole — shifts to rewarding the people rather than treating them as a means to an end, nothing is going to change.

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About the Author
Dwayne W. Waite Jr. is partner and principal at JDW: The Charlotte Agency, a marketing and advertising shop in Charlotte, NC. He enjoys consumer behavior, economics, and football.
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