Media: Double Standards - Why agencies must win the war of talent-spotting

Two directors with responsibility for finding the new hot-shots of advertising, believe their roles are vital in a 'war for talent' played out on the agency battlefield.

LARA ASHWORTH - TALENT DIRECTOR, ZENITHOPTIMEDIA

- Why is it important to have a senior specialist talent/HR person at an agency?

Because it puts talent exactly where it should be in a people business like ours - right at the heart of every business decision that's made. It sets the agency's stall out. We want to be the talent agency, the place where the best people want to come, grow and build a career. So much so, we not only have a senior specialist but also a team dedicated to making that happen.

- Are there any talent/recruitment issues that are unique to the media world?

Quite how closely fought the "war for talent" is. Most of the main agencies are within a walk of each other and most media people know lots of other people within the industry. This means media people are keyed into opportunities elsewhere and could feasibly move to them with minimum fuss. It's a good thing because it means we are clear about how we're different and what we uniquely offer talent here that they can't get elsewhere.

- How possible is it for you to continue to hire strong and interesting people during a downturn?

Opportunities do become restricted, there's no doubt about that. But a downturn also means the talent in your business is even more critical. Regardless of timing, it's my job to know about great people who are out there, so I'm always on the lookout through our talent hub (www.zenithoptimedia.co.uk/jobs.html). I want to be able to tap up the best people as soon as an opportunity that suits their skills and ambitions comes up.

- When recruiting, what general qualities that suit people to your business are you looking for?

People that love to work collaboratively because in an integrated agency everything is a group effort. Creativity, client focus, perseverance, passion - there's lots of qualities but these can come from anywhere. We have ex-teachers, police constables, pig farmers and even an ex-spy among our team.

- What training and programmes do you have in place to keep staff both up-to-speed and motivated?

Loads! Training ranges from bite-size master classes to postgraduate degrees, development from internal experts' workshops to mentoring programmes. We also exploit growth opportunities - we promote internally wherever possible and have a "talent moves" scheme to help our people move freely around our business.

- To what extent is your agency still defined by its people and is there a danger that this gets overtaken by process and the sheer scale of what you do for clients?

To my mind, they're the same thing. Everything we do for clients is done by people. Without the focus on people, I'm in no doubt our client proposition would suffer. It's because we develop our people to be able to offer the best in the market to our clients, and because they're motivated to go the extra mile to deliver this, we are able to win, exceed the expectations of and, therefore, retain our large and diverse client base.

- If you weren't nurturing talent, what would be your ideal alternative career?

I love my job, but definitely wouldn't say no to Judith Chalmers' one either.

TIM JONES - HUMAN RESOURCES DIRECTOR, AEGIS MEDIA

- Why is it important to have a senior specialist talent/HR person at an agency?

It is critical to have HR professionals who can influence and shape the business direction through talent strategies and by contributing at the highest level. Historically, compared with other sectors, our industry has under-invested in HR. As the demands on our industry increase, and as talent can often be the key differentiator for an agency, there is a need for people who can approach talent in a more professional way. In the past three years, we have seen HR professionals join our industry from outside advertising, attracted by an industry where talent is the true asset, where there are opportunities to work with creative, commercial and passionate individuals and where they can make a real difference.

- Are there any talent/recruitment issues that are unique to the media world?

Our industry is changing at an incredible pace - you have only to look at the rich and diverse influx of talent since the growth of digital to see how the skills and talents required have shifted in large parts of our industry. We have to plan and recruit not just for the present, but for what the business will need in the long term too.

- How possible is it for you to continue to hire strong and interesting people during a downturn?

All our agencies are taking a prudent approach to investing in their business right now. However, as many are using the downturn to radically review their business strategy, their focus and how they work - this approach is creating opportunities for our existing talent and to bring in strong external talent to complement it. The breadth of top talent we attract from the graduate market will increase as those who have traditionally been wooed by the high salaries and life long job prospects of the finance industry, will consider the attractions on offer in ours.

- When recruiting, what general qualities that suit people to your business are you looking for?

Aegis Media UK & Ireland is made up of close to 1,500 people operating across 20 companies. What is striking is that there are many values that we share and the kinds of qualities we see right across the group include: a passion for clients, an entrepreneurial spirit, a creative approach, a desire to understand and embrace the future and a drive to deliver.

- What training and programmes do you have in place to keep staff both up-to-speed and motivated?

We place real emphasis on identifying people's potential and helping them develop - fitting their skills to the changing needs of the business. As a result, more than one-third of our learning budget will be spent on digital training: both in terms of teaching non-digital people and broadening the skills of experienced digital people.

- To what extent is your agency still defined by its people and is there a danger that this gets overtaken by process and the sheer scale of what you do for clients?

All our agencies are defined by our people, culture and approach. Clients want exceptional value, but the definition of value is not built on price, process and scale alone. Clients define value in many other ways: strategic engagement, creative thinking,bold communications strategies, their relationship with their client team, insights, the return on investment, etc. Those agencies that can harness their talent to work in this way and maximise the value they provide to clients will lead the way.

- If you weren't nurturing talent, what would be your ideal alternative career?

I would be a travel writer.

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1 Job description: Digital marketing executive

Digital marketing executives oversee the online marketing strategy for their organisation. They plan and execute digital (including email) marketing campaigns and design, maintain and supply content for the organisation's website(s).