We need to put HR at the heart of our business plans
We need to put HR at the heart of our business plans
A view from Ian Priest

IPA ADAPT: We need to put HR at the heart of our business plans

So, that's it. The fifth strand of my ADAPT initiative - this time on talent - took place last week, 7th October.

We learned a lot, but the biggest thing I took out of it was the absolute need to put HR at the heart of our business plans. If we don’t, there’s something wrong. 

The whole ADAPT initiative has been about maximising commercial creativity. Everything we have done so far – whether it’s better alliances with clients, working in a more agile fashion, or changing the remuneration model so that we can get paid for performance – is focused on better commercial creativity.

You can read about the ADAPT strand here (www.ipa.co.uk/adapt) , and about the Talent Adaptathon here (www.ipa.co.uk/adapt/talent) . As I see it, commercial creativity works two ways: first, for our clients; and second for ourselves. If we get it right for our clients, then we benefit too. Not just in longer, more enduring partnerships with clients, and better work, but in greater performance and reward for agencies.

But there’s only so far you can go without the right talent. Commercial creativity and talent go hand in hand.

So we have to work hard at talent. It’s about attracting those with the right skills – in an ever-more competitive market; developing that talent through on-going training; and retaining it.

Recruiting the talent

There’s two aspects to attracting talent. Getting the right blend of diversity, and the right mix of skills.
If we claim to understand our target audiences, then we need to reflect them in the make-up of our workforces. Britain is becoming ever-more diverse. One in four schoolchildren is of BAME origin. Soon they will be working adults. So we need to widen the base from which we recruit.

As Sandra Kerr, director of Business in the Community’s Race for Opportunity programme, told us, a diverse workforce reduces the dangers of ‘group think’ and cultural blind spots. It’s good business sense, therefore.

At the other end of the spectrum, society as a whole is ageing. We should reflect that too in our workforces, which means working hard to keep older employees for longer. There’s no sense in dispensing with their wisdom and experience.

And how do we get the right mix of skills? Now, and even more in the future, we need data scientists, game developers, and creative technologists, as well as those with STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) skills. They are much sought after by other industries. How much do they know about career paths in advertising? And how can we do more to attract them?
It seems to me we need to work harder with schools and universities to sell our industry better to these cohorts.

Permanent training

We know training is vital – and the IPA’s CPD programme is a jewel in the industry’s crown – not only as a retention tool, but also as way of boosting existing skills and introducing new ones. The impact of technology is such that this is essential. As an industry, we have to be right at the cutting edge.
The presentation last week from Sarah Baumann, Leo Burnett’s group talent strategy director, rammed home the importance of making CPD a vital part of the agency: it is embedded into its culture. It not only makes Leo Burnett a desirable employer, but it also sends a message to clients that the agency is focused on being the best that it can.

Let’s do better at retention

As an industry, we’re not good at staff churn. According to the latest IPA figures, it’s about 30pc. The true cost of that is horrendous. At the Talent Adaptathon, we heard from Sydney Hunsdale, former global COO for Razorfish, that the all-in costs (time, money, impact on relationships and so on) of replacing a mid-level staffer are about 150pc of their salary.

The problem, largely because we have a tendency to treat HR as a cost, not an investment, is that this is largely hidden in the p&l. She says that churn is the single largest financial drain on an agency, and that those with lower churn rates consistently outperform their competitors.

Reducing churn, therefore, makes good business sense whichever way you look at it, not least in having a beneficial impact on commercial creativity.

Laser-like focus

All this points to the industry taking a more laser-like focus on talent. In a sense, I want to see this as a ‘movement’ that the industry gets behind – and putting talent at the heart of our business plans is the right way forward. That will prove that it is not just a desirable outcome, but one that makes business sense too.

I think we can do this better collectively than we can individually. Yes, of course we will continue to compete vigorously amongst ourselves for talent, but when it comes to attracting that talent into the industry in the first instance we are far stronger together.

As an industry – perhaps co-ordinated and facilitated by the IPA – we can up our presence in schools and universities. We can share best practice on training and retention. We can turn advertising into a destination of choice for the best talent coming out of schools and universities.

As with all Adapathons, the following 100 days are as important as the event. We have lots of ideas on how to proceed and we will be looking now to see which we take forward.

We’d love you to contribute too. You can blog, or raise issues at the ADAPT hub (www.ipa.co.uk/adapt) or by contacting us direct.