IPA ADAPT: How you can win the war for talent
A view from Ian Priest

IPA ADAPT: How you can win the war for talent

If they are to stay on top of their game and drive commercial creativity, agencies must recruit the best talent they can find, says IPA President Ian Priest.

Talent. Without it, we can’t achieve the levels of commercial creativity our clients demand. With it, the possibilities are limitless.

That’s why the final strand of my ADAPT agenda focuses on it. So far, we’ve looked at: alliances – building long-term relationships with clients; diversification – creating new types of communication, including content and tech-driven forms; agility – less set-piece activity, more real-time; and performance – rewarding agencies for outcomes, not just output.

Talent completes the circle. We can change everything about how we work, what we produce and how we get paid, but if we haven’t got the right talent, we’ll be less effective.

Moreover, now feels like the right time to look at talent. Technology is having a dramatic impact on our business, so we need to recruit people from different backgrounds and with new skills and perspectives. Also, as the economic cycle swings upwards, so we can better afford to invest in training and learning.

If we get this right, it becomes self-fulfilling. People with the right skills and training produce better outcomes, which improves agency remuneration, meaning there is more to invest in people. If we are a people business, it’s imperative we invest in them. We can’t just talk the talk.

A bigger melting pot

Historically, agencies have housed a wide diversity of talent: creatives from art school, or copywriters with a literary bent; production people from the TV, theatre or film industries; planners and strategists with pin-sharp brains and boundless intellectual curiosity; account executives skilled in negotiation and relationships; and media people who combine trading skills with analytical rigour.

It’s a melting pot, and when you stir it, the contents are mouthwatering.

But now we need a bigger melting pot. This is partly because society is changing, and we need to reflect that in the people we take on. So, to the melting pot we must add by sex, ethnic and cultural background, age and country of origin.

This is not about being politically correct. It’s about accurately reflecting the composition of the audiences we are communicating with. How can we credibly talk to a diverse nation if we are not diverse ourselves?

Nor is it about being obsessed with youth. Advertising is rightly applauded as a business where young people can progress fast, but that doesn’t mean dispensing with experience. In other sectors – law and education, for example – experience and the ability to provide guidance is highly valued. That means we should make training available across the age spectrum.

However, it doesn’t end there. Technology means we can do so much more and communicate in different ways and via different platforms. We need digital natives with an intuitive understanding of what is possible.

Long-form content requires different creative skills – journalistic, narrative, drama or comedy.

The profusion of data offers the possibility of better targeting, and real-time optimisation of creative work – providing, that is, we can interpret and act on it.

So, people with these future-facing skills must also be added to the melting pot.

Competitive set

How do we attract these people though? Today, our competitive set is wider. Ten years ago, it was the City, media-owners and management consultancies. Now, added to these three are other professional services-providers, tech and social-media giants, tech start-ups, app and games developers. Increasingly, too, we compete with content providers such as Buzzfeed and Vice, production companies or YouTube channels.

The way to beat the competition is by providing a rich, diverse, progressive and stimulating environment – one that values and rewards creativity in many forms.

We also have to develop, nurture and retain our own talent, and that means continuing to invest in the world-class training available in the UK, and in which the IPA plays a major part (see panel, above).

There’s no set way to do this. That’s why at the Talent Adaptathon on 7 October, we will be probing the issues, debating the challenges, looking outside – whether to the technology sector, other creative industries or education-alists – and running practical, hands-on, workshops.

From these, we will develop recommenda-tions that, as an industry, we can all act on and adapt to different circumstances, and which we can all use to win the war for tomorrow’s talent.

You can find more details about this at www.ipa.co.uk/adapt.

PS: In case you’re wondering, I fully appreciate the irony of writing this as a white, middle-aged, middle-class male who lives in South West London. If we get the talent issue right, then, proportionately, I’ll be a minority. That’s OK with me.

The final Adaptathon of the series will focus on Talent and takes place on Tuesday 7 October 2014. Go to www.ipa.co.uk/adaptathon for more information.