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Navigating the Talent Crunch

The ‘Talent Crunch’ – High demand, low supply – are brands and agencies struggling to find the right staff ?

Talent is the lifeblood of creativity. Fine minds delivering campaigns and ideas that are delivered seamlessly  across markets and customers. However, today, the demand for talent is starting to outstrip supply. The talent crunch is affecting some of the larger agencies as  – they are struggling to find candidates to fit within exacting roles across advertising, marketing, production, and this is having a knock-on impact across campaigns, service delivery and quality.

According to the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA), marketing is facing one of the worst talent crises ever, with nearly ‘48% of advertisers, agencies, ad tech companies and media owners’ sharing this belief. The survey undertaken by WFA and MediaSense found that 56% of brands felt that the skills shortage was limiting the industry while 68% said that the word ‘crisis’ was not an exaggeration.

A real Talent Crunch inhibits growth, limits access to skills, reduces brand reach and scale when it comes to global campaigns, and constricts creativity. It is also makes talent far more expensive than in the past – highly skilled, agile and creative people are in demand so retaining and attracting them is costly.

If talent is hard to find and retain, and agencies and marketing teams are spending a lot of time wooing skilled people to their shores, where are all the good people going? Where have all the creatives gone? Are they really jumping ship at a time when the economy is tight and the cost of living is rising?

It’s an interesting question, because we’re not actually seeing creative talent leaving the industry, and so it begs the question:

Is the Talent Crunch real?

Or is it just a smoke screen for agencies struggling to retain staff for other reasons?

The WeTransfer Ideas Report 2021 found that the mass exodus of creatives is being driven by…the need for creativity. People want their work to have meaning, they want their ‘visions to come to life’ and they want their creativity to be nurtured. They also want healthy boundaries and more respect for their time. So talent might simply be moving jobs, looking to join smaller boutique agencies, or even go freelance, as they explore better ways of working that suit their own personal objectives.

The Talent Crunch: It’s all about the base

There are four key factors that would drive a talent crunch:

  1. silo thinking and overspecialisation;
  2. remote and freelance workers;
  3. burnout; and
  4. quality of life.

Each of these 4 factors are connected, most have been influenced in some way by the pandemic and the extraordinary demands it puts on people and professions.

Silo thinking and overspecialisation were highlighted in the WFA survey as being key factors in limiting creativity and skills development. Around 71% of those surveyed felt that it was inhibiting career growth and employee learning. Agencies want to fill roles that are more rounded, but talent is still stuck in old boxes. This needs to change through ongoing upskilling and skills development in-house that gives talent the tools needed to rise up into the vacant spaces that the agencies need to fill.

Of course, perhaps one of the biggest challenges was the pandemic. Not only did it put immense pressure on people and businesses causing burnout – but it turned talent engagement and acquisition on its head. This was a time of saying goodbye to traditional ways of working and the daily commute and hello to gig working,  digital nomads and to borderless talent. Many people opted into going freelance and working remotely so they could regain a better work/life balance, most wanted a better way of living that defied the limitations imposed by traditional working models. People want more flexibility, better visibility into their career growth, and salaries and benefits better structured to suit their expectations. Quality of life, burnout and remote or hybrid working are closely intertwined and are perhaps one of the most significant players in the talent crunch game.

People want flexibility. They want space. And they want to work with companies that respect these needs. They are also looking to find work that challenges them for the right reasons, that’s enjoyable and is something they personally believe in.

The current economic climate is also putting agencies under pressure from their staff to review compensation packages. Clients are already telling us of agencies increasing staffing costs, in some instances, by +10% with inflation being to blame. Unfortunately, it’s rare that these agencies pass this back to all of their employees. Yes, they may need to pay their ‘rock-star’ creatives more to retain them, but are they giving all staff a blanket 10% increase in pay? If not, where is this additional increase going?

The Talent Crunch is it an opportunity?

Yes, it may be hard for agencies to find the right talent and there are myriad challenges impacting access to talent and retaining the right people. However, this is also an opportunity, a chance to find creative people from across multiple locations and countries and to inject a fresh sense of creativity into campaigns and brands.

This idea is reflected in the WeTransfer Ideas Report 2021 which found that creatives in Latin America are 12% more likely to take creative risks and push boundaries than their counterparts in the West. The report found that creative excellence is moving from the West to Latin America with people working in countries like Mexico, Brazil and Colombia 9% more likely to take risks, 9% more confident in their ideas, and 11 % more optimistic about their careers.  They are also more likely to be working from home (53% compared with 45% in the West) and their creativity and inspiration is reflected in Africa, India and the Philippines as well.

Considering how creativity comes from multiple spaces and sources, and how it is not constrained by geography, this is the ideal time for agencies to look abroad for talent and to tap into the creative zeitgeist now shaping this industry. India, Singapore, Indonesia, Africa, and the Philippines are delivering exceptional talent to global agencies without calling people into a physical office.  Brands that are open to filling their talent gaps with skilled creatives from around the world are more likely to resolve their own talent crunch and deliver campaigns that have a fresh injection of creativity.

It becomes even more important for Marketing Procurement to have a clear understanding of the impact of hiring talent in different countries on your overall costs. Requesting detailed staffing plans for each project, with the location of each team member stated, becomes even more imperative to ensure that marketing costs are being spent efficiently. Unscrupulous agencies may try to charge HQ staffing cost for remote workers, which drives up marketing spend.

The conversation around a talent crunch with your agencies provides a great opportunity to get further clarity on their costs and to ask the questions about the staffing plans.

And, it should also be a time of reflection on how you are as a client. Are there changes you can make to help retain and attract talent working on your campaigns? Sometimes the challenge with talent retention lies on the brand’s side of the fence – they can be difficult to work with, hard to please, or challenging to navigate. Agencies then blame the talent crunch when the brand is really the problem. There has to be a way of softly-softly shifting these engagements and relationships to smooth over interactions between brand and talent so that everyone benefits.

The WeTransfer report points out, “the West is getting comfortable, preferring to rest in what’s familiar”. What better time to reshape your Marketing Procurement than within the talent crunch and the exploration of something new.