Luke Smith
Luke Smith
A view from Luke Smith

Adland’s talent crunch – a high-class problem we can turn to our advantage

There are many creative ways to reward and retain people in a new era of hybrid working, Luke Smith says in the latest instalment of Campaign series on the talent crunch in adland.

It’s only a very short 18 months ago that we were staring down the barrel of the pandemic wreaking havoc on the global economy.

As we nervously hid at home in the spring and summer of 2020, commentators suggested unemployment numbers could run into the tens of millions.

How things have changed. This newly coined “talent crunch” is a high-class problem the ad industry (among many others) faces, and it will be those businesses that think differently, innovate and ultimately offer the best homes to staff that will emerge the winners.

At Croud, attracting and retaining talent has always been about developing a long-term strategy. When we started the business in 2011, we did so with the aim of creating something different and taking an innovative approach to how the media industry works.

That’s why we set up with a core group of permanent staff and then a large network of “Croudies” – our gig economy arm of the business where people can take on projects wherever they are in the world.

Fast forward to autumn 2021 and it’s important that we both think differently to attract the best talent of today, but also accept that we’ll need to continue to evolve to attract the talent of tomorrow.

People have gone through a permanent, attitude-altering, lifestyle change over the past year and more.

The pandemic and resulting lockdown gave people the space to reflect, think about their priorities and what they want from the thing that takes up the majority of their time.

The direct result of this is the necessity for flexibility and the ability to cater beyond the nine-to-five in London.

We, like many others, have seen higher staff churn in 2021 than ever before – it was a low single-digit percentage before the pandemic – and in some ways this was needed.

What’s interesting is where people are going. We’ve lost almost no one to competitors, or even the broader industry. Instead, former staff have decided to change their lifestyle in favour of education, travel, location, or even a completely new career.

Several full-time employees have taken the opportunity to switch to flexible/gig economy working. Fortunately a number of those people have chosen to become Croudies.

I am proud that we can still have a relationship with some of that top talent who have decided to leave Croud to further their education.

And we’ve adopted a de-centralised working model in other ways too. When I worked at Google, I was always impressed by its campus approach in places such as Dublin, where graduates and others from all over EMEA would work and live together.

It inspired us when setting up our Shrewsbury hub, which is now 170-people strong and houses our new graduate and apprentice programmes, with plans underway to explore new space to take us beyond 500 people.

Bringing in the best entry-level talent is our number-one focus right now across all markets – and we’re doing that from a broader more diverse talent pool than ever before. It’s also the fastest route out of the shortage we currently face.

There are many reasons behind that talent shortage, from Covid to Brexit, which don’t need any more discussion. But these reasons are compounded by the massive growth of digital marketing over the past 12 months, which again is a high-class issue.

So we see everyone trying things to attract new talent. We can see the tech giants grappling with this same quandary  with Amazon offering new starters a £1,000 signing bonus in a bid to appeal. But I believe that we can be smarter than that.

Making employees feel invested  but money isn't everything 

When we launched Croud, we made every employee a shareholder from day one. We did this to make sure the entire team felt invested in growth, and felt properly rewarded when we hit key milestones.

Employees today want to feel rewarded and recognised in a meaningful way. They don’t care that you have a weekend away once a year or Friday drinks (though that helps) – they want to feel seen.

As an independent agency we’re fortunate to be able to structure our business in this way, but why shouldn’t we start schemes to allow employees to become shareholders, at least in parts of the business they grow and own? Not only is it a fantastic perk for new starters, but it’s also brilliant for retention.

And another thing to remember is that money isn’t everything.

Many Millennials and Gen Zs are looking for more than the best pay packet or even their development plan.

The ethics of a business, from its approach to diversity and inclusion and sustainability to how current employees rate their experiences, are becoming increasingly important factors for candidates. Agencies’ Glassdoor reviews and scores have never been more relevant.

So yes, we have a supply problem right now. But with the right long-term structural approach as an industry we can emerge bigger, better and a more diverse bunch for it.

And if along the way the world of work starts to look a bit different, then it will be all the better for it.

Luke Smith is chief executive and co-founder of Croud