On the Campaign couch: Are we approaching recruitment all wrong?
A view from Jeremy Bullmore

On the Campaign couch: Are we approaching recruitment all wrong?

As the chief executive of an ad agency, we are finding it increasingly hard to secure the best talent at graduate level.

We have tried all the usual milkrounds and recruitment fares but seem to be competing with more companies than ever. Meanwhile, I know the number of young adults looking for work continues to be large. I can’t help but think we must be approaching our recruitment – as an agency and as an industry – in the wrong manner. Any advice?
By doing conventional milkrounds and recruitment fairs at conventional universities, you’re branding yourself as a conventional company on the lookout for conventional people: high-flyers, certainly, and high-flyers with impressive degrees but conventional people nonetheless, most of them on the lookout for jobs in big, well-known, well-established, conventional companies. So you won’t even be getting first pick of the kind of people you almost certainly didn’t much want in the first place.

So start again from scratch. Forget every aspect of your present procedures and question every assumption you’ve been mindlessly accepting.

You say you want the best talent at graduate level. Why? The talent you’re hoping to find may well have degrees – but, there again, they may not. The only reason companies restrict their search for talent to graduates is one of practicality: they’ve been pre-screened for evidence of intelligence and diligence and can be addressed as a group. But, by insisting on this essentially lazy precondition, you eliminate from consideration – at one stroke – every single person without a university degree. Doesn’t that strike you as pretty idiotic?

I suggest you note the characteristics of those who’ve proved successful in the past, agree a fuzzy sort of psychogram of your ideal candidates; and then use your creative and media skills to find them.

Social media offers you a relatively new and almost uncannily apposite means of reaching them. Build up your own brand; invent and then set your own intriguing online competitions, designed to test for originality, persuasiveness and competitiveness; open them up to all comers; publicise progress; then pay travel expenses for the 50 most promising and put aside several full days for interviews. I’d be astonished if you didn’t haul up on deck at least ten you can’t wait to hire – some of whom, of course, could well be graduates but none who’d rather work for PwC.

You’re a creative agency, aren’t you? Why not show a bit of creativity?

The message is clear: growth is top of mind for our holding company and we have a demanding remit to chase all and any new business for the foreseeable future. Already, this has led us to pitch for the sort of accounts we simply would not have been interested in five years ago – namely, gambling and personal-insurance companies. It fundamentally jars with our founding ethos. As ad agencies, do we always have to serve without question and work without scruples?
Your holding company money men may not know much about brands or marketing. You do; or, at least, you should. When instructed to chase all and any new business, you made two mistakes. First, you squealed pathetically – and then you caved in, also pathetically. And now you trundle along, muttering resentfully, demotivating your staff and doing nothing whatsoever to re-establish your authority. Your holding company money men will take your abject acquiescence as evidence that you’ve come to agree with their conviction that all business is good business. It may not be too late to correct this fatal impression.

Remind them that agencies, too, are brands and that the most successful brands are those that are seen to be uncompromising in their standards – even when it might seem against their short-term interest to be so.

Many clients, and many more potential clients, greatly admired your principled stance on gambling and personal-insurance companies: as intermediaries can testify, it was more than once the deciding factor in your gaining inclusion to a shortlist. In the interests of profit, therefore, you have decided to revert to your previous policy and eschew all businesses that you believe to be against the interests of their users. You have made this decision public in the trade press today.

All you need, then, is to win a lot of new business.

Jeremy Bullmore welcomes questions via campaign@haymarket.com or Campaign, Teddington Studios, Broom Road, Teddington, TW11 9BE