Digital Essays: Trawling for talent

The challenge of digital growth means the industry must help safeguard its future by being proactive in attracting and nurturing the best talent.

From the Marquis of Granby on Charlotte Street to the Drunken Monkey on Shoreditch High Street (mine's a white wine, as many of you will know), the industry has been abuzz with debate about the "agency of the future". Will ad agencies still lead in the digital age? Can digital agencies usurp them? Or will user-generated content put paid to both?

I'm sure that a few of these essays will touch on these matters; in fact, I'll bet a bag of dry roasted on it. But for me, this isn't the big issue. The sooner we all stop posturing, the better. This isn't a battle. We're all in it for the long run, so we'd better learn to get on with each other.

And, as digital agencies, we'd also better learn how to recruit and nurture talent. This, for me, is the biggest issue of all.

We've enjoyed a spectacular period of growth over the past year or so, and it shows no sign of slowing. If we are to capitalise on the current situation, keep innovating and, most importantly, continue producing excellent work, then we need to start doing more, and talking less. This is the only way we'll be able to thrive in the future.

I would argue that the ad industry has invested a great deal in attracting talent to the business, and continues to do so. But perhaps the digital sector as a whole has been rather slow in supporting this or in developing its own strategy. In addition, we didn't really help ourselves in the last downturn by letting so many talented people walk away from the business.

So now we find ourselves on the up again and desperately seeking a mix of people from all disciplines, from account management all the way through to technical. I wasn't surprised to hear anecdotally that there are currently more than 200 open positions in the top 20 digital agencies.

There is only so much that our recruitment industry can do, and there is only so long that the inter-agency bidding war can continue. For me, this is a non-partisan agency issue - and, in the spirit of that, here are five things I think we should all be doing in our agencies right now ...

Make this the Number one issue for the whole advertising community

Technological change doesn't just impact on digital agencies. It changes the way advertising works, both within and across all media. Keeping up with the ferocious pace of change - not just from a technical or creative point of view, but also in order to have a strategic understanding of consumer behaviour and business best practice - requires new skills, as well as new ways of applying existing skills. As such, this is an issue the whole industry needs to face up to. I'm not suggesting that many of the industry's existing workforce can't adapt to these changes, but we need to develop a strategy to make this happen. And we also need to attract talented and creative people from a broader range of backgrounds into the advertising community.

Start early

Through the IPA Digital Marketing Group, we've been investing time and effort in attending events. We've presented at secondary schools and universities. And we've just launched our guide to getting a job in digital, which will be distributed in universities.

We are now also involved with the Creative & Cultural Skills Council and are developing initiatives, including a Creative Digital Apprentice Scheme, which will raise awareness of career opportunities within the industry. These efforts need to continue - and they need your support.

Nurture talent

In Dare School - our search for young creatives - we created an original way of recruiting and fostering young talent. The scheme itself has received much acclaim, but, for me, the real success lies in the talent of the five individuals we found and the innovation and spirit they bring to the agency.

In addition, we have launched a graduate scheme to recruit into account management and planning.

Over the past few years, we have also developed relationships with Watford, Brunel and Hyper Island in Sweden, and have a steady stream of young work experience students in the agency.

So, my advice is that it's not enough to develop just one relationship or one scheme - you need several.

Look beyond digital

This is the slightly partisan bit - not on behalf of my agency, but of my sector. So I apologise in advance. But, as digital agencies, it seems pretty obvious to me that we should be prepared to accommodate and foster the growing number of talented individuals who are looking to leave their careers in advertising and direct marketing and join the digital sector.

Only 18 months ago, this would have been relatively unheard of, but we are now seeing significant interest from people within more traditional agencies. In November, Dare hired two award-winning planners into the agency. They are intelligent and inquisitive. They learn fast. If people like this come your way, grab them with both hands. You won't be disappointed.

Invest in training

Of course, people don't have to join a digital agency to learn about digital. IPA Digital has been working to develop a series of courses for people within and outside the digital sector. We have created courses for both senior management and planners, and have ensured that digital thinking is part of all stages of IPA training.

If Moray MacLennan was right not to make digital the centrepiece of his agenda as the IPA president for the next two years, it was only because dealing with the challenges of digital's growth is essentially a matter for individual agencies. But, as he also acknowledged in his inaugural speech, that challenge will be a hugely significant one for each and every agency.

As digital agencies, it is perhaps tempting to sit back and enjoy the spectacle of others trying to catch up. But anyone who succumbs to this temptation risks not being around by the time MacLennan stands down. Our challenges are no less acute - and securing the finest talent to resource our continued growth is chief among them. If we can do that, then we'll have a decent chance of building our businesses into long-term successes. And that, surely, will be worth celebrating.

Drink anyone?

- Lee Wright is the managing director of Dare.