According to a survey from Cap Gemini Ernst & Young, 32 per cent of people in the media, communications and entertainment industries rate getting hold of top talent as the major concern for the future health of their business.
In an industry where intellectual property is everything, you need to find a way to keep the best talent if you are to continue to produce the best work - not to mention the fact that accounts often move when people do. As recent events at Lowe have made painfully clear, getting it wrong can have sweeping repercussions.
While most agencies recognise the need to look after their staff, organised programmes such as the fast-track training favoured by banks and the civil service are not a popular choice - in any case, such schemes have attracted criticism in the management press because they fail to recognise that people develop at different rates.
So if management-speak that encourages you to treat your employees as "intellectual investors" leaves you cold, what are the alternatives? Talking to your staff, being flexible in your expectations and providing continual challenges and room to develop will all help keep your best people with you - and if they still leave despite all your efforts, at least they will have only good things to say when they discuss your business around the market.
TODAY'S YOUNG TALENT
MARK LUND, chief executive, Delaney Lund Knox Warren & Partners
In 2004, the IPA released an updated version of its 1991 report Rewarding the Advertising Profession, designed to "dispel the myth that ad agency staff are paid exorbitant salaries". According to the author, David Haigh, "admen and women were often characterised as Ferrari-driving, expense account-living lounge lizards who vacationed with their wallets in the Caribbean at the client's expense".
Much work has been done over the years to change the public perception of the ad industry. But has the industry's reputation changed so much that the profile of the people entering it is now equally altered? According to the DLKW chief executive, Mark Lund, today's young talent has a different profile from that of even recent years. "I did a talk last year at the IPA for new grads and out of a group of 45, about 37 were women. That seems a lot to me," he says. "They were all very good, but it seems to me that we are losing some of the good men to consulting or financial careers that weren't on the scene when my generation was starting out in the business." The changes are not necessarily a bad thing, he adds.
"There aren't enough women running agencies at the moment, but if you look forward ten to 15 years, they're going to have to be." Today, the attraction of City jobs over a career in advertising is twofold, he says. "It's a matter of perceived status and actual remuneration. Consulting and banking pay more and the prospect of earning a lot of money is much greater. Advertising is not as high-status a career as it used to be."
The increasing numbers of women in the business also reflect a societal shift - the number of female university graduates is far higher than it was ten years ago. But the changes are not just a matter of numbers - as the industry evolves, so do the qualities that agencies seek in their employees. "What we look for in grads is a degree of energy and creativity but also deductive and emotional intelligence, and the average 21-year-old woman has a lot more emotional intelligence than a 21-year-old man," Lund says.
HOW TO FIND IT
GARY STOLKIN, managing partner, Stolkin + Partners
"It may sound trite, but agencies are human capital businesses and if talent isn't at the top of the agenda, an agency is unlikely to attract and keep the best people. Agencies aren't talent magnets because they have great reputations; they have great reputations because they have a strategy for getting the right talent," the headhunter Gary Stolkin says.
Defining your vision and values is a good place to start. "If, for example, your vision is to transform an ad-driven agency into an ideas-driven business, this will determine the skills you require and the talent you acquire.
And if you've got a clear set of values, you'll probably have a good sense of who's likely to thrive in your culture and who's likely to be rejected by it."
Agencies that take the trouble to define competencies, set goals and appraise individuals have a better record when it comes to keeping people - often against the odds, he adds. "When it comes to talent acquisition, think about the recruitment process from the candidate's point of view.
Talent acquisition is a competitive business and the recruitment process itself may determine which offer is accepted and which is rejected." Even if you decide not to hire someone, their experience of the agency should still be positive.
"We spend most of our time talent-spotting and while you can interrogate skills, review a book and understand cultural fit, we also look for something in the DNA that marks out a star. It's difficult to articulate what unites the most talented individuals at all levels and across all disciplines.
Maybe it's that they each have their own personal set of values, maybe it's their passion, maybe it's that they always have a point of view - or maybe it's that grounded self-confidence that enables them to be their own person whoever they're dealing with."
As well as building relationships with good headhunters, talent-spotting can start at home, Stolkin says. "Look beyond the people with the loudest voices. Appraisals that genuinely reflect the views of the team are a good place to start. A hundred-person agency has a hundred talent-spotters being your ambassadors and looking out for top talent."
HOW TO KEEP IT
NIGEL BOGLE, chief executive, Bartle Bogle Hegarty
The average length of tenure of BBH senior management is ten years, the agency's chief executive, Nigel Bogle, says, and some of the agency's key staff have been there since they joined as graduates. Gwyn Jones, who recently moved over to BBH New York as the chief executive, is the most famous example, but Ben Fennell, the Asia-Pacific chief, also started as a graduate, while the chief operating officer, Simon Sherwood, was the agency's first account manager when he joined in 1982.
"If you can keep your good people by constantly giving them new challenges, then you will end up with people who can manage the business in the future," Bogle says.
As well as being good at keeping its staff, BBH, along with Wieden & Kennedy, is one of the two agencies that creatives most aspire to work for, according to a recent survey. Do talented people want to work at BBH because of its reputation, or does it have its reputation because of the people that work there? It's a bit of both, Bogle says.
"When you have a lot of people who have worked together for a long time, it gets rid of a lot of the classic tensions within agencies. Less internal politics is one of the reasons that we've done well as an agency. (Creative director) John O'Keeffe is especially good at telling account planners and handlers that they are just as important as the creatives are."
The fact that the three disciplines are viewed equally is one of the agency's attractions, he adds. "I speak to every new joiner and the perception of BBH is quite different to the reality. People say we are arrogant and that we're all about work and not about having fun, but neither of those are true. Most people who come here have targeted BBH as an agency they want to work for, where they are going to learn from people."
Rather than having an organised succession-planning structure, promotion from within is simply part of the BBH way of doing things. If you don't get in early in your career, you risk missing out. "We rarely recruit senior planners or account directors; most are home-grown. In lots of walks of life, change is a good thing, but for us stability is the key," Bogle says.
HOW TO DEVELOP IT
MARK CRANMER, chief executive EMEA, Starcom MediaVest Group
Starcom's outspoken and dynamic chief executive admits he must be a nightmare to work with. He's tough, brash, he knows what he wants from people and he's not afraid to demand a serious level of performance from his employees.
While he might have a temper, he also engenders a huge amount of loyalty from his staff - but not as a result of premeditated tactics such as picking out talented individuals and showering them with favourable treatment.
For Mark Cranmer, the business is always going to be bigger than the individual people working in it.
"At any stage in a company's development, there will be talented people within it who you hope will develop as fast as possible. Your business will move with them. But what's important as media businesses become larger and more global is that you create the right overall operating culture. You want your best talent to fit within that culture rather than changing things to accommodate your talented individuals," he says.
Of course, you can never hope to keep every single one of your best people, no matter how strong your operating culture might be. But you do have to be aware of how the changing market affects how you manage your people, he adds.
"There are a lot fewer companies around now, especially on the media side, which means a lot fewer places for people to work. It's not like my generation, who job-hopped to learn new skills. Now, you have to be increasingly imaginative about making sure people are acquiring those broader skills."
Starcom makes sure that happens by giving everyone a personal training plan, into which each employee has his or her own input. "We certainly haven't got to the stage that the banks are at, where they have a top 100 list of people that they fast-track through the business," Cranmer says.
"What we do have is an inclusive and contributory culture and people who work here need to want to make the business better as well as us looking after them. Everyone contributes and everyone is important."
MAKING ROOM FOR THE RIGHT PEOPLE
TIM LINDSAY, chairman, Publicis
Since becoming the Publicis chairman in March last year, Tim Lindsay has made some high-profile hirings and has more changes planned. Making space for the right people within the business is very important, he says.
In July, he appointed Mark Cramphorn to the newly created role of general manager for the UK group, while Paul Edwards joined in September as the chief strategy officer, replacing Derek Morris. Both worked with Lindsay at Bartle Bogle Hegarty.
"I've worked with Paul several times before," he says. "We're in the kind of industry where you build networks as you move through the business, and when you need people in key positions, you often turn to people you know and trust. The thing is to realise that if you do that too much it can be counter-productive - you have to mix tried-and-tested with new people and not just keep recreating teams."
Lindsay says that having the right people is key to any business. "It's usually a combination of the right person and the right job but it's not unusual to identify the person first. There's plenty of impetus for change when you come into a new role, the honeymoon period is certainly a reality and there's the expectation that you will want to change stuff. After six months or so of working with the people in the business, it becomes harder to be objective about people's capabilities and more difficult to reorganise the business than it was."
The way that agencies treat their talent has changed, he adds. "We try to promote people early into roles that are challenging. But it's true that there are now fewer people working harder for less money in the business, which tends to make management risk-averse. You have to think hard now about destabilising client relationships, so making changes really becomes a matter of balance and judgment. I think years ago, people were given opportunities earlier than they are now. Advertising is strangely and perversely an innately conservative business, partly because we play to the conservatism of our clients. People expect it to be livelier and more risk-taking than it actually is."