OPINION: MILLS ON ... ATTRACTING AND RETAINING TALENT

Wherever you go these days and whoever you talk to, there’s a common moan: the lack of talent or, to be more precise, the difficulties companies have in attracting and retaining talent. According to a contact I talked to recently, one of the major management consultants - the bete noire of agencies in the last few years - has lost more than half its staff under 30 (ie the next generation) in the past 12 months.

Wherever you go these days and whoever you talk to, there’s a

common moan: the lack of talent or, to be more precise, the difficulties

companies have in attracting and retaining talent. According to a

contact I talked to recently, one of the major management consultants -

the bete noire of agencies in the last few years - has lost more than

half its staff under 30 (ie the next generation) in the past 12

months.



So where are all the future stars going? Into the e-economy, of course,

where the knowledge, analytical and technical skills (although not

necessarily the personal skills) that make these people so employable as

management consultants carry an even greater premium, not to mention the

chance to make serious money and own a piece of the action. If even the

management consultants cannot hang on to this type of individual, what

chance do agencies and clients have?



The answer, of course, depends on how they themselves adapt to the

e-revolution and, consequently, the opportunities they can offer

staff.



But it is quite clear that one of the dangers of this current trend is

the creation of two tiers of employer - those with the wherewithal and

the will to embrace the e-revolution and those, who by dint of

circumstance and/or resources, can’t. The talent will inevitably flock

towards the former simply because that’s where the action and the

prospects are. In a sense, this is a parallel to what happened in the

70s and 80s, when no graduate worth his or her salt would take a job in

industry or manufacturing, preferring instead the lush green pastures of

advertising, marketing, media, banking, law and, of course, management

consultancy.



Already, according to the head of one large agency, this is happening

among his client base where the most talented marketers are gravitating

towards the sunrise industries or, at least, those that combine sex

appeal and opportunity with the most e-potential: telecoms, fashion,

financial services and retailing.



And the losers? Well, they look like being the classic FMCG companies -

Heinz, Unilever, Mars, Procter & Gamble and so on - companies with the

least e-potential. The irony, of course, is that these companies were

once the place to be for young and ambitious marketers. An interview

with Heinz’s chief executive, Bill Johnson, in the Financial Times last

week, underlined this. The people he is most concerned to recruit are

those with marketing skills, not manufacturing or logistics, yet these

are the ones hardest for Heinz to lure. But, as more than one agency

chief has noted, there is already a real paucity of talent in this

sector - not at the top of course, but in the next two to three layers

down.



While it may be comforting to think this will force some clients to ask

their agencies to fill the vacuum, it is of course a double-edged sword:

agencies too have to find a way of keeping their own talent pool stocked

and flourishing. The skills of a good adman transfer almost perfectly to

the e-sector



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