WORLDWIDE ADVERTISING: The worldwide talent pool - Agency networks could learn a thing or two from clients about relocating their staff around the world. Sandra Deeble asks the experts if working overseas has benefits for ad agency staffers

When it comes to Brits abroad, our top three destinations are: New York for the buzz, and San Francisco and Sydney for the beaches and weather. No, this information hasn't come from the Association of British Travel Agents, but from the London-based headhunter Gary Stolkin.

Eighty-five per cent of Brits who work abroad do it for the lifestyle, Stolkin confirms, with only 15 per cent taking a better job than the one they are already doing in London.

If you dream about transferring your skills across continents in search of cobalt skies, the message is: think carefully. And if you plan to come back, think very carefully. "Unless you've been working in one of the strongest US agencies, in general, people don't get very much credit for going abroad,

Stolkin says.

But if you are going to do it, try to go for the best agency brand, he advises. Even so, he says that if it's career progression you're after, two years in London gets you further than two years in Sydney.

Yet for some, travel appeals. Surely a stint abroad can be a good thing?

"The most desirable leaders globally are those who have worked in more than one country,

the headhunter Isabel Bird says. "It proves that you understand cultural diversity."

J. Walter Thompson's chief executive, Simon Bolton, got his first experience of agency life abroad when he ran the Shell and Amex accounts for Ogilvy in Bangkok in the late 80s. Having also worked in Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong and Sydney, he returned to London last April.

"It was a fantastically varied and different experience,

he says. "I suppose it is down to the individual, but I always felt that international business was more interesting than focusing on the UK alone."

Bolton remembers his early years in advertising when he was thrilled to be working on Air Canada and found himself flying off to Montreal.

Meanwhile his co-workers got their kicks from going up to meetings at Rowntree, eating a hot breakfast on the train.

"There are people who perceive it as an adventure to experience a professional life in another country,

Gay Haines, the headhunter Kendall Tarrant's worldwide chief executive, says.

Fleur Cowley, from the headhunter Spencer Stuart, argues that it's not everyone's cup of tea. "Some people are loathe to up sticks and take that risk,

she says.

Yet surely being an ex-pat suggests a certain amount of cosseting? Not necessarily, says Mark Linder, the director of global business strategy and worldwide client service director, who moved from Ogilvy in New York to the agency's London office last year.

"Clients know how to move people around,

he says. "But in the agency world you're on your own. You're at risk when you move with an agency and that discourages people. Managing talent is something where client companies and the McKinseys of this world excel,

Linder says.

Stolkin agrees: "Clients move their people around the world a lot more and it's part of career planning. With agencies, it's more a case of 'Oh my god, we need someone to do this in Hong Kong'. It's more expedient. Agencies are absolutely crap at managing people's careers."

Lou Burrows, a partner at Braveheart, helps agencies to develop their people and talent management is part of this. "I think the expression talent gets overused - it's more about nurturing talent. If you look around, there are people who can be average in one company and then perceived as very talented in another.

"Talent is a mixture of knowledge, skills and experience; it's no good just going out and hiring someone and saying 'you're now in charge of people things'.

As for using your talent to travel, Burrows is cautious.

"A year abroad where things have been difficult can make you grow quickly. But it can knock your confidence as well."

So if you're still willing to give it a go, what are the opportunities and where are they?

Well, if you're a planner, the world's your oyster. "Having an English planner is a bit like having an English nanny,

Haines says. But for account handlers, the market is more difficult. Stolkin advises account handlers to try to move within their own group. "Although if you're prepared to go to Moscow now as an account handler, of course you will get a job."

Creatives sit somewhere in between planners and account handlers when it comes to mobility. And they might have an easier time when they return to London. "Your saving grace as a creative is that you've got a book or a reel. It's proof of what you've done,

Stolkin says.

"There's a lot of good talent in Australia. But for every prince you have to kiss ten frogs,

Haines observes.

Local talent. Of course. While years ago, emerging markets were crying out for the British to help them find their feet, things have changed.

The colonial approach to going to work abroad - "London calling. Hang on in there, we're sending out some good people

- no longer passes muster.

But whether your choice of office is in Mumbai or Melbourne, when you finally pack up to come home, it can be quite a struggle. One of the trademarks of being an expatriate is that when you come back you haven't got a clue what's going on any more. The cultural landscape has completely changed in your absence.

Returners would be advised to enrol on a crash course in British culture - these could be held somewhere comfy, perhaps Babington House? You could watch repeats of Pop Idol and catch up on EastEnders. And you'd be drilled in what music has become most popular in your absence - Timo Maas, not Massive Attack.

And, of course, you'd have time to watch all the ads that you've missed while you've been away. All in all, you'd have some serious catching up to do. Is swapping your travelcard for a ticket to ride really worth it? Over to you.

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