Why agencies are looking for 'T-shaped personalities'

The rapid evolution of the media landscape means agencies are looking for people with "T-shaped personalities", bosses told the industry.

IAB Engage: (left to right) Adrian Barrick, Karen Blackett, Helen McRae, Matt Adams
IAB Engage: (left to right) Adrian Barrick, Karen Blackett, Helen McRae, Matt Adams

Chief executives from three of the UK’s biggest media agencies addressed the IAB Engage conference in London today, with each stressing the need for agencies to collaborate, rather than compete, on projects for clients.

The media bosses agreed that people with T-shaped personalities – or generalising specialists – were needed to deal with the numerous challenges agencies faced as the industry adapts to changing trends in digital media.

Karen Blackett, MediaCom UK’s chairwoman, said that despite the industry moving in a more technical direction, the sheer pace of change in the industry meant that it was more important to hire curious people capable of working as part of a team.

She said: "The answer now is people who are interesting and interested. You have to have a natural curiosity about people because we’re trying to influence people to choose one brand over another.

"It’s about understanding that total communications system and passing the knowledge you have to someone else. Rather than just technical skills it’s about interest."

The panel, chaired by Campaign’s global brand director Adrian Barrick, all agreed that collaboration is key in an increasingly digital media landscape.

Helen McRae, UK chief executive of Mindshare, said it was part of her agency’s parent company WPP’s ethos of "horizontality".

She said: "It’s also about enjoying that collaboration which leads to tensions, which is quite good. It forces us to challenge us not to be working in a bubble. As long as you have a unified goal then that tension is great."

Talent drain is often raised privately by media agency insiders as a significant problem, as UK media shops are unlikely to compete on salary with the likes of Google and Facebook when they poach digital media specialists.

Havas Media chief executive Matt Adams went further, saying agencies that fail to collaborate with rival agencies on a client project will end up "destroying themselves". 

Adams said: "No-one has the best answer. All of the best work you see that comes out at awards times is built out of collaboration. Agencies have that in their DNA. For me, if you have a view you don’t want to collaborate, you’re cutting yourself off."

Barrick pressed the panel on how media agencies’ relationships with clients have been affected by recent controversies over transparency. In June, American agencies were criticised by the ANA for "numerous non-transparent practices" over client rebates, two months before Dentsu in Japan was accused of overbilling its client Toyota.

Blackett said that while "honest discussions" were the only way to maintain a healthy client/agency relationship, there were some aspects of programmatic buying where the price of inventory could not be made available to the client.

"When it comes to programmatic buying, there are disclosed routes and non-disclosed routes that form the client discussion," Blackett said. "There are non-disclosed routes which have programmatic which we can’t disclose, but it has the benefit to the client in terms of getting the right audience at the right price.

"There is a disclosed model where you can see the price of inventory that is used. It’s up to the client on what they choose."

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