Opinion: Perspective - Agency turmoil throws spotlight on talent crisis

You might have heard about the Agency Showcase that Campaign will be launching online later this year (and yes, this week's column is kicking off with a shameless plug).

The idea behind the showcase is to create a vibrant web directory of the country's leading agencies, giving each one the opportunity to present their best work and ideas. So any client casting round the agency marketplace (hopefully looking for a home for a meaty advertising budget) can browse through the best agencies in one independent, central digital space.

So who should we invite to be part of the Agency Showcase, my publisher asked. Coming up with a list of the UK's best agencies is no hard task, of course. And most of the leading agencies in town have already been contacted, so you know you've made the grade.

But even I was surprised at the difficulty of working out the best way to approach some of our biggest and brightest agencies right now. Has the agency world ever been in such flux?

Here's a rough list of all the question-marks: Grey (new chief executive, David Patton, due to arrive in September, expect a shake-up); Saatchi & Saatchi (new group chief, Robert Senior, is looking for a super-MD to run the agency, expect a shake-up); Publicis (no chief executive, no managing director, no new- business director, erm, no news on any of these vacancies); TBWA (new group chief, Tim Lindsay, arrives next week, expect a shake-up); Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R (new chief, Richard Exon, is now looking for a creative director and a planning director, expect a shake-up); Leo Burnett (looking for a creative director). And while we're at it, where's Hurrell and Dawson's star media hiring? Phew.

All of which ties in neatly with what has emerged as a bit of a theme in this week's issue: adland's talent crisis. Of course, everyone's been bemoaning the talent crisis for ages now, but clearly no-one's quite worked out what to do about it. So, suddenly what was little more than a standard management moan has become a full-on situation.

Our feature on page 24 this week is actually more heartening than I expected; graduates do still see advertising as an attractive job, but perhaps the notion of a "career" has lost its appeal. Young people in all sorts of industries, not just advertising, seem more interested in investing in themselves and their own life experiences than a career for life.

So agencies will increasingly be forced to redefine "talent". Planners will run creative agencies (page 13), clients will run creative agencies, media people will run creative agencies. But adland must also get much better at drawing on talent from other industries well outside the communications net, too.

More importantly, though, in the short term is retaining the best people that are already in the business. With so many agencies in such turmoil, it seems likely that staff are feeling more than a little unsettled. If the anonymous e-mails regularly sent into the Campaign office by disaffected agency employees are anything to go by, then several agencies have a real problem on their hands.

You've got to hand it to WPP. Mediaedge:cia's win of the £59 million BT planning business is a very sweet coup.

Word is that, having taken its media planning in-house last year, BT has come to the conclusion that it's rather an expensive thing to do. Mediaedge:cia, spotting an opportunity, nipped in and offered to pay the salaries of the BT media planners and bring them into the Mediaedge:cia orbit, with access to all the support that implies.

With media buying duties at Starcom (part of Publicis), creative with Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO (part of Omnicom) and media planning with Mediaedge:cia (WPP), BT's relationships look a little messy. Expect WPP to be plotting to maximise its "in".