So, you’re a leader at a great agency. You make terrific work. And more good news: your people and clients are happy. But the agency is located in a market that’s not necessarily an advertising mecca. It’s more of a hidden gem. Not the first market people think about when they think about agencies or places to live.
There’s no doubt the pandemic has broadened the talent pool as the agency world adopts more flexibility on location, teams and how agency work is made and sold.
But… location, location, location. It still matters. Where does the team enjoy a nice dinner after your new business win? Where does one enjoy a beverage? What’s there to do on weekends? Where and how do people live? Where do your staffer’s kids go to school?
What follows are some things you can do to attract and recruit talent to your agency – particularly if it’s not in a market like the Windy City or the Big Apple.
This thinking has come from helping agencies find leaders to work in fantastic markets like Atlanta, Milwaukee, Omaha, Kansas City and New Orleans.
(Full disclosure: I fully admit these ideas will also work when driving down Lake Shore Drive on a summer day. Or grabbing a blanket and some vino for a weekday, after-work concert at Chicago’s Millennium Park. Your market has it’s own Millennium Park. Your mission is to find it and make sure your candidate feels it.)
Optimize what’s worked in the past (and tweak or abandon what hasn’t)
One of the first things we do when working with a new agency is understand the full cycle of past recruiting efforts. From where did we source our options? What platforms work for us? Who’s involved at the agency? What’s the process look like? What do our descriptions look like? How do we evaluate candidates? What’s the story we tell? How do we onboard staff? What impact does location have?
With one agency, we took a look at the agency’s top performers’ careers to write a sharper, more effective recruiting plan. Identifying some common traits both increased the number of good options and ensured a tighter cultural fit moving forward.
Leverage your agency’s positioning in candidate conversations
One agency with whom I work has a particularly smart way of talking about their expertise. It not only attracts and helps win new business, but also interests job candidates. Because new business growth suggests more and bigger career opportunities for them. So this positioning comes up in candidate conversations Candidates have a good understanding of the agency’s expertise and what it can do for their career – an easier path to promotion; exposure to more categories; and the chance to work on name brands.
Identify a candidate pool with ties to your market
This can mean things like where they went to school or if they had a job earlier in their career (in your market). I loved Atlanta so much, I worked there twice. In 2020, we recruited four professionals to a great agency in a market that has a hard time attracting talent. And one way we did this was based on the professionals’ past ties to that market.
Share newsworthy stuff about your agency or market with the candidate pool
Doing this over time creates awareness. While they may not be looking for a job now, they will be looking for a job in the future. Or they know someone looking now and will refer them to you or pass along your interesting news. This is a location and agency-specific example of a relationship valentine.
Develop relationships with local colleges and universities
These kinds of institutions have a vested interest in helping their students and alma mater find jobs. So explore what a relationship can mean. It could be anything from sponsoring alma mater communication… to guest lecturing…to running a campaign competition…to having an informal relationship with marketing professors to identify top talent. Play your cards right and they could even turn into a client.
Find simple and creative ways to sell your market
So your agency isn’t in Chicago or New York. And for many, that’s a great thing! There’s a lot of existing content out there about your market and I encourage you to use it. Give candidates a chance to understand what it’s like to live there. For one agency, we created a one-pager with links to local tourism-type content, testimonials, and cost-of-living comparisons so that candidates could see how much further their money went in the smaller, but way more liveable market. The document went out with every job description.
And at another agency, we made sure to give finalist candidates a nickel tour of the market, helping them understand good neighborhoods, schools, entertainment options and other cultural highlights of their prospective new town.
You could have a lot of fun selling your market. Do it in a creative, distinctive way and it might even attract some trade attention, creating more awareness for your agency.
Use simple tech to collect interview feedback and facilitate hiring decisions
For years, I’ve used Google Forms to quickly gather team feedback on candidate interviews. Without much work, Google can summarize input, giving you quantitative and qualitative data on any given candidate that can be shared with hiring managers.
Customize candidate interactions
There’s a lot of “save as” in HR and recruiting. Offer letters, for instance, are generally templates. (And for good reason.) But candidate interaction – particularly initial outreach – should be customized. Why are you contacting this particular professional? And what do you know about them that can impact your pitch content and context? How does your agency market influence your initial outreach? Adding a touch of your market’s benefits can also help demonstrate your agency’s interest in work/life balance.
Codify how your agency describes its culture and values
What are the key words people use to describe what it’s like to work at your shop? Making sure hiring managers and interview teams have a shared language about the agency in and of itself communicates team alignment and purpose.
Live the agency’s culture and values in recruiting and people-related agency policies
Live your brand! One of the things I noticed when working with one agency was that their Employee Handbook was a pleasure to read. Usually these documents are boring and full of legalese and corporate-speak. I found pretty big bits of humanity in the handbook, which turns into a great proof point this is an agency that cares.
Give recruiting the attention it deserves
Granted, this is a little self serving. Wrote the man with a mortgage. But make recruiting someone’s job that isn’t already too billable or busy doing too many other things. How can you recruit talent if you don’t spend any time doing it? The best candidates don’t respond to a Linkedin posting. Over the years, I’ve found it’s a combination of on-brand, one-to-one and one-to-many ideas that surface the best candidates.
Find out more
Hope the above gives you a thought or two that can make recruiting at your agency more effective. And should you ever want to discuss any of the above, feel free to reach out. Thanks for reading!
Here’s some other thinking that can inspire ad agency recruiters and help find your next great leader:
- Thoughts on to earn more staff referrals and lower outside recruiting costs
- How to use agency credentials to attract and retain people
- How your agency’s HR function can be made more valuable
- Ways that agency recruiters uncover passive candidates
- Why agency recruiters like a boomerang candidate