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November 6, 2008
The War On Talent
Finding the right people requires people doing the right way of finding

A friend of mine recently attended a conference panel entitled “How to Win the War For Talent.” Maybe you’ve seen this phrase used somewhere, too. I couldn’t believe people still use it in November 2008.

It’s bullshit.

If you read an article or attend a conference panel entitled “How To Win The War For Talent,” trust me: the last thing you’ll learn is how to win the war for talent.

Because there is no war for talent. Not in this day and age, not in the advertising industry, and especially not in this economy. There’s a war ON talent.

I roll my eyes whenever I hear some agency exec or recruiter say, “I can’t find good people.” If that’s you, I have news for you: Good people are all around you. Your problems are simple ones, and they’re solvable if you’re willing to solve them.

Maybe you’re not looking in the right places or doing what it takes to recruit them. Or you’re not evaluating skills, resumes or talent properly. Or you don’t know how to find the right place for someone you can’t automatically peg. Talented people are creating content and developing skills that don’t jump out of a one-page resume or 12-ad portfolio. Some of the biggest innovations in advertising were literally and technologically impossible to do 10 or 15 years ago. New job types and new job descriptions are being created every day. Are you stuck trying to put new people in new jobs using old evaluation methods?

Then there’s the lack of common courtesy. Sorry, HR people, creative managers, and hiring managers, but if you can’t return a phone call, an email, or a job inquiry, you’re not properly managing your human resources. You should quit the business, or be fired. Period. If you can’t treat prospective employees with the same respect your bosses treat prospective clients, you’re not helping your company.

Perhaps nobody who’s truly talented wants to work for your agency. Maybe the work on your agency’s website is weak or outdated. Maybe the work environment isn’t uplifting and the word has spread in your community that conditions aren’t good. Maybe the people aren’t nice or your office is politically charged and everyone knows it. Or simply put, you’re not paying enough, although I believe that’s way down on the list.

Maybe you’re in New York, Chicago, San Francisco or other market people flock to. Yet your agency doesn’t fly people in to interview or pay even a minimum of travel expenses. Or you won’t pay to relocate someone. We’re talking about someone who’s willing to uproot their lives and their family to come work for you. Trust me, the money you spend on relocating the right person more than makes up for the otherwise billable hours you spend looking at the wrong ones.

Agencies with bad reputations are known worldwide for their bad reputations now. Like disgruntled customers, there will always be a dissatisfied employee. But if it’s a consistent pattern, no amount of PR will help you. The word gets spread, and spread fast. If you wage war on talent, you don’t have the right to expect great people lining up to work for you.

Now, for those of you who think this is a one-sided screed, let me now address the “talent”:

As Hyman Roth said in The Godfather Part II, “This is the business we’ve chosen.” No one owes you anything. Like an auto worker in Detroit or a textile mill worker in North Carolina, you’re expendable.

Agencies will dump people at the first sign of trouble, a pending account loss, an anticipated revenue drop, or merely if you look at someone the wrong way. That’s nothing new. It’s part of the business and always has been. There are still more people wanting to get in and work in this business than available jobs. And there has never been any type of job security, or linear path to success. It’s your responsibility to show up, be professional and do your best. But sometimes, that simply won’t be enough to keep you employed, and you need to prepare for that. Take it from someone who’s lived in 5 states in 12 years.

Every day, whether by necessity or dream, people in advertising strike out on their own. If the manager of a Taco Bell can run a business, so can you. The cliche is true: if you’re not the lead dog, the view never changes.

But entrepreneurialism isn’t for everyone. That’s why good people apply for jobs in ad agencies every day. No one works in advertising or marketing, working for someone else, to get wealthy. It beats manual labor, for sure. We do it for other reasons; because the work is interesting, the people are unusual, because the output of the work—an ad, a video, a website—is tangible. Some people safely push papers and balance spreadsheets all their lives. We opted for something else.

Good people are everywhere. And it’s like not the ad industry has requirements. There’s no certification to acquire. No Bar exam to pass. Anyone who wants to get into the ad industry can try. Many try, but only some succeed. Consequently, it’s not a job seeker’s market and never has been.

So if you’re looking for talent, believe me: You can do it. Finding the right talent isn’t easy. It requires diligence, time and effort. But it is most definitely not a “war.”

Peace out.

November 6, 2008

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Since 2002, Dan Goldgeier has been writing the most provocative advertising columns about advertising and marketing -- over 170 of them, covering every related topic you can think of. Now based in Seattle, Dan is a copywriter and ad school graduate who's worked at shops big and small. 

Visit his copywriting websitesee his LinkedIn profile or follow him on Twitter.

And please, buy his book for 99 cents.


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