Building a resilient agency | Simon Lendrum

Posted 2 August 2022.

Avoid the next talent crisis by building a more resilient agency the simple way; from the ground up.

​It’s the time of year when we visit tertiary education providers, extolling the virtues of a career in advertising. We’ve got a lot of ground to make up – we have shared previously the challenges our industry faces if we’re to return to our rightful position as attractive employers of choice for the best and brightest talent. However, I want to stimulate a discussion on the other side of that equation; if we attract more entry-level talent, will there be places for them to fill?

There’s a real tension at play here. Everyone agrees we need more talent, but only a portion of agencies deliberately plan for the future by taking on annual cohorts of new entrants. The arguments against doing so are age-old. ‘We’re not big enough to train people up just for other agencies to poach them’. ‘They’ll only go overseas in a year’s time’. ‘We can’t afford to have people training’, ‘we hire ad hoc – when we need them’.

Every one of these arguments has individual merit. It doesn’t automatically make sense to hire ahead of the need. Young New Zealanders do aspire to work overseas. It does cost a little more to hire ahead of need. But all of these arguments are eclipsed by the reality that it’s more effective and efficient to hire and train your own talent from the outset. Bringing in a cohort of graduate entrants has the following benefits:

- New entrants are a tabula rasa – you can train them to be their best selves in a way that fits your company ethos.

- A group of entrants, joining together, are sticky in a way that individual hires are not. They bond to the company but they also connect to one another. They become a unit.

- Entry level talent pushes upwards. If you hire great talent, they will probably be ambitious. That means those above them need to grow fast or feel that pressure behind them.

- When, inevitably, you lose people in the high-risk (and super-hard to replace) 2-5 year experience group, you’ve already trained up those who can step into their shoes.

If all agencies commit to hiring a decent number of entry-level talent, the tide lifts across the board. Yes, some will go overseas – hopefully with your best wishes fueling them forward. The other main fear – that they will just get poached – is really not a reality. From experience, after several years hiring grad cohorts, I don’t recall ever losing someone to another NZ agency. They liked the culture too much where they were. Because they were at the heart of that culture, influencing what the agency became, infusing the agency with energy to learn more, become better, and pass that on to those that followed them.

So make a plan to hire a bunch of new graduates this year. Tell us what you need, and let us try to find them for you.

PS: The other trap I would encourage you to avoid is changing your plans if the economic outlook gets dark. It’s easy to see hiring new entrants as discretionary spend. But just as you no doubt advise your clients to spend through a recession, I would advise you to hire through one too. The costs of recovery on the other side are just too punitive to do otherwise.