LIVE ISSUE/RECRUITMENT: How to get ahead in advertising - get headhunted - Michele Martin finds that if you’re not inside it, the system works against you

Rachel is a British account director in her mid-30s who came back to the UK last summer after ten years in Hong Kong. Having run a consumer electronics account across Asia at a top international agency and spent time at integrated shops, she thought she would be relatively employable.

Rachel is a British account director in her mid-30s who came back

to the UK last summer after ten years in Hong Kong. Having run a

consumer electronics account across Asia at a top international agency

and spent time at integrated shops, she thought she would be relatively


So it came as a bit of a surprise when she found herself without a job

four months later and a recruitment consultant told her that her skills

’didn’t fit client briefs’. Reeling from the double whammy, she

abandoned her plan to work for an advertising agency and took a job with

a below-the-line company instead.

Now extremely happy with her decision, she still feels that the UK

recruitment process did little to help her showcase her talents. ’I knew

I’d have to network but I didn’t realise just how hard it is to get a

job over here. It was a soul-destroying experience.’

Cases like Rachel’s were highlighted in a recent campaign by the obscure

recruitment industry pressure group, CV Concern (Campaign, last


The organisation wrote to more than 200 agency managing directors

alleging ’restrictive practices’ on hiring foreign nationals, saying

that the industry’s reliance on word of mouth and headhunters who do not

advertise their services effectively discriminates against outsiders who

do not understand the system. It went on to warn that such a lack of

transparency could eventually be penalised when the UK implements the EU

Social Chapter, designed to promote equality in Europe’s job market.

CV Concern’s spokesman, David Smith, describes agency practices as a

’boycott’ of the majority of recruitment consultants - a term likely to

make many dismiss the organisation as mildly hysterical. But while the

system may not be deliberately discriminatory, does CV Concern’s crusade

raise valid questions about whether advertising could benefit from a

wider view of recruitment?

In advertising, unlike many other sectors, vacancies are rarely

advertised, with agencies relying instead on direct contact with a

candidate or a small network of consultants or headhunters. Between

January and November 1997, agency job ads in trade and national papers

amounted to just 17,144 column centimetres while below-the-line

companies generated 171,580 column centimetres.

This system, especially the reliance on four or five consultants, has

grown from historical factors. Headhunters save time and offer a

’comfort factor’ to people who have successfully used them before. They

also promise confidentiality in an industry where staff movement can

destabilise huge chunks of business. Gary Stolkin, a headhunter

specialising in account management and planning, says: ’Where a job is

about relationship-building, recruitment always tends to be cloak and

dagger. It’s the same with large solicitors or investment banks.’

However, while most recruiters agree that the process is a tight one,

all deny that it is restrictive. Gay Haines, chief executive of the UK’s

largest advertising headhunter, Kendall Tarrant, says: ’It’s not


If people do their research, they will find us. We’re listed in every

place people usually go to look for names. It’s not in our interest to

keep them out.’

On the agency side, the Publicis chairman, Rick Bendel, says: ’It’s not

restrictive, it’s lazy. People want to spend as little time as they can

on recruitment.’ Eddie Bowman, head of client service at Ogilvy &

Mather, adds: ’You could hire someone from an agency across the world

and that person might be just as good as someone from Lowe Howard-Spink

or Abbott Mead Vickers, but it might take eight times as long to find


However, there are signs that such narrow views are beginning to be


Haines believes that Kendall Tarrant already looks more widely than it

used to, trawling client companies, media owners and management

consultants for new blood. She says if anyone is to blame for being too

conservative, it is the agencies. ’There’s a desire to have someone who

ticks all the boxes so that, when the internal memo goes round, staff

can say ’I see, he ran Levi’s at Bartle Bogle Hegarty’.’

Naturally, agencies disagree. Leagas Delaney has an American account

director running its Harrods business and employs four Germans, an

Italian and a Singaporean Chinese. Its managing director, Bruce Haines,

says that foreign staff are particularly important on international

business because ’they help the client feel comfortable that you’re not

offering parochial British views.’

Even on national accounts, awareness is growing that non-Brits have a

great deal to offer. Providing their English is absolutely fluent, such

candidates bring a fresh approach. Bendel says: ’Agencies should be much

broader in how they recruit. Fishing from the industry itself only

perpetuates cliches and bad practice.’

Meanwhile, Rachel offers two suggestions that would improve recruitment

practices immediately: ’Agencies should advertise their jobs directly

and recruitment consultancies should be more open about who their

clients are. Often they won’t tell candidates which agencies they

represent, so you don’t know who it is you’re targeting.’

As a parting shot she adds: ’You’ve all got to open up a bit. Clients

say they want lateral thinkers, so stop ignoring people who don’t fit in

a neat little box.’


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