Agencies should play the long game and allow talent to support start-ups
A view from Imogen Wethered

Agencies should play the long game and allow talent to support start-ups

Imogen Wethered, chief executive and co-founder of Qudini, and named among Campaign's 2017 Digital Mavericks, shares her lessons from the ladder.

In recent years, the advertising industry has seen a decline in interest from young graduates looking for job opportunities. It needs to review how it should attract and retain talent. 

As someone who turned down working as a creative in the advertising industry in favour of running my own start-up, I can understand the reasons why others are seeking an alternative that enables them to use their creativity within their careers.

When I was employed in the industry, the concept of working with often risk-averse clients who have the final say in everything (which would result in a high-proportion of my work and ideas being thrown in the bin) was a constant struggle. Furthermore, I was put off by the segregated nature of job roles in the advertising industry; the thought of working everyday on the same tasks and activities was a struggle.

As both a millennial and creative person, I am obsessed with the concept of having autonomy and making an impact, as well as mastering and utilising a diverse range of skills. It didn't feel like the advertising industry would facilitate this.

Simon Sinek’s "Millennials in the Workplace" video suggests that many millennials feel the same; autonomy, learning and making an impact is essential, so doing the same tasks daily and having work that doesn’t get approved doesn’t fulfil our millennial urges.

Furthermore, there is always an "in trend" career. Advertising has certainly had a long stint as one of the "coolest" industries for graduates to turn to, known as an sector that provides a great office culture in return for hard work, whether providing free breakfasts, scooters in the office and ensuring that every day is a dress-down Friday.

Yet in recent years, the start-up industry has grown significantly, offering the same cultural benefits as well as opportunities for talent to have autonomy, make an impact and have the majority of their ideas executive - so long as they fit within a start-up budget or, in the case of the founders of a business, represent a viable business plan.

The growth of the start-up obsession in the UK coincides with that of unicorn companies such as Facebook and the unsurpassable company cultures they build. This is in addition to the government’s Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme and Enterprise Investment Scheme funds, which have significantly increased the amount of early stage ideas that get supported and which are able to hire their first talent. The schemes give early stage private investors significant tax credits on their investment sums.

New cool kid on the block

So start-ups are the new cool kid on the block, and advertising is regarded less as the "cool" career. But herein lies an opportunity that the advertising industry could leverage to reignite its status as a supporting "cool" industry to work in.

To save costs, start-ups often create their own adverts and marketing campaigns in-house. However, they do not have the creative abilities that an advertising agency provides. London Underground trains are heavily adorned with start-up adverts that often lack creative concepts and generally just explain what the company does. This certainly represents a demise in the creative advertising concepts that consumers interact with on a daily basis.

In order to attract more talent into the industry, advertising agencies should enable their creatives, planners and other roles to mentor and support young start-ups on a pro-bono basis. This could be achieved by collaborating with venture capital funds, start-up accelerators and co-working office spaces. Advertising agencies could encourage their employees to use some of their working and free time to work with such companies, in order to devise and execute marketing concepts and strategies.

So what’s in it for the advertising industry? Yes, there is little immediate financial return available in this. But it can act as a long-term sales strategy. When some of the start-ups grow they will have the relationship with your agency as a first point of call.

From a cultural perspective I believe it will have a huge impact in helping agencies to attract and retain talent. Start-ups take risks, have minimum bureaucracy and and are under pressure to execute and experiment as quickly as possible. This means that young agency hopefuls will be able to create work that gets implemented and makes an impact to an organisation, whilst they can still benefit from the security of a steady job.

As a benefit to the agency, by working with diverse companies your employees will be gaining inspiration, practising their skills and learning more about new industries, new technologies and new trends. They will also be able to progress and execute ideas further, gaining more confidence. All this new knowledge, inspiration and creativity will positively impact the strategic and creative work that they create within for your agency's clients. 

For start-ups there's an obvious benefit: they will gain access to talented individuals chosen by top agencies, who can offer support and provide objective inspiration.