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Wake Up And Smell The Talent

Posted by Gellan Watt on 18th June 2017

A little article I was asked to write for The Drum about the value of talent. Here it is…

Wake up and smell the talent

I’ve recently been part of a heated discussion (read rant) on LinkedIn by an agency owner about the cost of ‘talent’. This particular thread stressed the issue that salary expectations in the agency world are being unreasonably driven upward by well-funded start-ups as they compete with agencies for the best talent.

This was followed by a statement that ‘talent’ shouldn’t simply be looking for the best money – they should be looking for great places to work with the right culture, interesting work and colleagues. Thumbs up and comments came rolling in from other agency MDs.

Of course, I can’t argue that talent is getting more expensive. Nor the logic (and obviousness) about how important it is to work in a great place with great people doing great things. And yes, it’s getting harder to attract the people we want. There’s more demand. Less supply. So, guess what… prices have gone up. Economics degree not required.

The attitude that was being expressed, is what fired me up. And the shocking speed that others piggy backed the statement.

What I am talking about is an attitude of entitlement. Yes. I said it. Entitlement. Not from the millennials we all love to moan about. The thread felt like a scene from an online version of Jurassic Park. I could feel LinkedIn shudder at the weight of the inverse entitlement of dinosaur agency leaders – not defined by their age… but by their out-of-date mind-set. Sleep walking their agencies (and their team’s future) into agency oblivion.

It’s an attitude that you should be glad to work here. That we have culture because we have bean bags. Look at the brands we work for. In our day, we worked for nothing.

Well, that day has come and gone my friends. And thank fuck for that.

First of all, and let’s get this out of the way, most agencies aren’t a great place to work. Far from it. Flip flops and metro tiles in the kitchen don’t equal culture. Do you think every electronics company is like Apple? Or every car marque like Tesla? No. Same as agencies in fact, most are lazy on culture because they have a creative product. That doesn’t make you a creative business. Don’t confuse the two.

Onto the important subject of wage inflation. Start-ups and brands aren’t over-paying talent. They are recognising its value. Because in turn, talent creates value. Value for our clients. Value for the agency.

And that deserves to be rewarded appropriately. Age and experience has nothing to do with it.

Which highlights another problem… agencies over-managing the bottom line, rather than the gap between bottom and top. Leaning on the old models, not finding ways to charge for value where it’s created. I’m not talking about payment on results and high risk models. I’m talking about simply charging properly. And being good enough at what you do that you can command a premium.

If you can’t afford great people, real talent, or you can’t pay the talent you already have appropriately, you have a far, far bigger problem. And a mirror may be the best solution. Not a pointed finger.

And here’s the rub.

Sometimes talented people do sacrifice their salary potential because of the culture and the opportunity presented to them. So, if you’re not going to be able to pay market rates – there’s a simple solution – be a great place to work. With a clearly defined culture. And commitment to doing great work.

Culture is a vision. A purpose. An energy. A story being played out every day in everything you do. A set of behaviours so compelling they drive and unite everyone in the team. Culture is living with purpose and embracing, engaging, developing, rewarding and celebrating talent. Valuing it. Setting it free. And sharing the rewards. Fairly.

Sir John Hegarty once told me, money is no philosophy. And he’s absolutely right. But neither is kidding ourselves that our agencies are great places to work, and that the sacrifice should be made by our teams to work with us. What kind of message is that about the agency community? I love and F-Bomb. And honestly, I think it’s fucking crazy.

Without talent we are nothing. It’s good that agencies are feeling the pressure to reinvent. Come on agency leaders. Change Compete. Stop behaving so bloody entitled.

Talent will make or break your business. Recognising it. Developing it. Attracting it. Retaining it. Caring about it. Rewarding it. Creating a business that deserves to attract it. One that values it – in every sense.

That’s the conversation to have.

 

 

Tags: Ad Agency, Creative Agency, Digital Agency, Gellan Watt, talent, The Drum

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