How do the most successful agencies recruit new people?

How do agencies that had previously been struggling manage to turn their fortunes around? Unfortunately, there is no secret sauce as such, but there are specific ingredients we observed that might go into that sauce. Many of those ‘ingredients’ are quite simple but that doesn’t make them easy to implement. (A press-up is probably the simplest exercise one can do, but that doesn’t make it easy)

The report, “Survivor to Thriver”, is a collaboration between Kingston Smith (the accountants) and myself, Chris Merrington of Spring 80:20. Our different perspectives made the interviews, and distilling the essence from the interviews, all the more fascinating.

The agency marketplace has got tougher for most and is highly competitive. The war for talent has become even more challenging. Clients are now poaching agency staff as well as competitive agencies. The proportion of money spent on salaries continues to grow – yet this is one of the KPIs which has a huge influence on agency profitability.

We interviewed agency heads from a range of different types of agencies: creative/advertising, media, digital, healthcare, design, events, PR and communications. They had all turned their business around from under-performance to astounding results.

Over the coming weeks and months I will share different topics from the report, “Survivor to Thriver”. Here is the next topic.

“Recruit for the agency you want to be”

In every Thriver interview we heard how the right people were seen as fundamental to the agency being more successful.  Several Thriver agencies saw their ability to hire the right senior people as their biggest challenge to growth, more so even than winning or retaining clients.

Retention of the right people was not simply about throwing money at the problem. It was about ensuring the right people were supported, encouraged, appreciated and stretched. They were not treated as assets to be sweated. Communication is critical – “listen to your people” said one MD we interviewed.

If you want to recruit for the agency you want to be, it goes without saying you need to be clear about what your agency will be like in 2-3 years time.

In several cases the Thriver agency had become an ‘employer of choice’ which means you actually don’t have to pay premium salaries to attract and keep great people. Employees want to work with you because it will be rewarding, good for their career/CV or will help them grow their experience.

It’s about finding a ‘win-win’ relationship between employer and employee so it is mutually beneficial. Engaged employees are typically more productive, more accountable and more profitable. Employee churn of your most talented people is very expensive.

Techniques used to engage the team were often very simple, authentic and obvious. Examples included one agency where at 11am each day everyone stops for tea and then congregate in the kitchen for 10-15 minutes building the community spirit. Another where individuals have the opportunity each quarter for their personal dream to come true.

One agency head said to their people “the journey we’re embarking on won’t be easy but it will be worth it”.

Another agency head said “no passengers, every seat is precious”

One MD doesn’t have a fixed desk and so hot-desks every day sitting with different members of the agency. This keeps the MD’s finger on the pulse of the agency.

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