Help Wanted: 4 Ways the Ad Industry Can Attract Top Talent

By Laurel Rossi, CMO, Infillion

The ad industry has grappled with a dearth of talent since there were still agencies with Madison Avenue addresses. Engineers and data scientists with skills for programmatic advertising have been in short supply for a while, and many creatives left the grind of agency life some time ago, lured by streaming services and new content vehicles. Big brands, too, have struggled to retain talent, while wrestling with a well-known CMO tenure problem.

Yet today, amid cutbacks in competing industries, the dynamics have flipped, producing a golden opportunity to attract and foster top-notch tech and creative talent. With Big Tech going through a correction and other big companies retrenching, is our industry doing what it takes to retain the people it needs?

While U.S. employment has recovered its pandemic-related losses, the U.S. advertising and public relations sector has been riding a pogo stick: After a lackluster fall, employment rose briefly early this year before stalling and then falling in March and April. It was good news, then, that industry employment rose by 1,000 jobs in July reaching 497,200 jobs, the highest level since 2001, says the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

It may be unrealistic to expect the industry to continue this upward trajectory—we know that the ad industry is affected by business cycles too. What it can do, however, is overhaul recruiting and retention practices, restructure workplaces, and demonstrate that the industry is dynamic and on the leading edge of creativity, entertainment, and culture.

Here are four ways the ad industry can recapture and sustain its sizzle as a destination for the best and brightest:

Offer long-term incentives, financial stability, and training: Advertising has not traditionally offered the kind of starting salaries that other industries, like tech, expect but the cost of not attracting top talent is reflected in talent churn. The ad industry has always been on the cutting edge of culture and change. It uses the most innovative technologies in the world on a daily basis. To attract college graduates and young professionals who want to change the world and see business as an opportunity, it is not hard to make the case that ours is a dynamic industry with all the incentives and tools talent needs to grow and thrive. Layer compensation, benefits, and growth opportunities and we begin to compete with the world’s top players.

Establish internal learning and development systems: Make young talent with big aspirations feel important to companies by nurturing their growth. Digital natives are incredibly valuable to agencies and brand marketers. We need culture-seekers on staff who are comfortable with platforms such as TikTok and Discord and embrace ongoing changes in media and communication. It’s equally important to double down on training for mid-career executives—and to empower them with the best tools, one area in which advertising has traditionally lagged. It’s time to truly become technology-led businesses with aptitude for training and re-training.

Institutionalize mentorship: New employees need to see that senior talent takes an interest in their careers beyond the current project. Neither marketing organizations nor agencies can afford to let this process happen organically—it needs to be formal. And in a highly interdependent business where technology, creative, planning and measurement have to work well together. Mentors should be paired with employees with complementary skills, as informal or ambient learning is a powerful skills multiplier.

Celebrate digital transformation and one of the most unique value propositions in business: The business world tends to pigeonhole people into a right-brain/left-brain paradigm. Advertising is different. We bring all kinds of people into a room—from engineers to creatives— producing more stimulating environments and more varied career paths. As digital transformation overtakes the powerful broadcast arena, creativity and new more lucrative business models are colliding. With change afoot new talent has as good a chance, if not better, of actually reinventing the ad business.

For years, we wasted too much time retreating and hoping, at best, to survive a challenging period. Many are simply resigned that Madison Avenue is destined to lose its prestige, power, and people to the technology and startup worlds. If we want to keep our industry humming for years to come, we’ll have to aggressively pursue different kinds of talent—talent that sees itself differently. And, after we attract them with incentives, L&D, mentorship, and a growing value prop we will all benefit from the dividends this next generation brings to an industry that never fails to reinvent itself.