OPINION: Having trouble recruiting digital hot-shots ... then read on

Alex Hancocks
By Alex Hancocks | 22 November 2012

I am not alone in noticing a proliferation of articles over the past few weeks discussing topics such as the “Digital brain drain”, “talent shortage” and “lack of skills within digital” in Australia. I don’t admit to being an expert, however I do have some thoughts on this issue via first-hand experiences since my arrival on these sunny shores.

Before you close your browser, flick the page or take to Twitter to rant about “another Pom throwing in his 10 pence” on this topic, consider some pertinent questions.

How many of you currently have vacancies within your teams? How do you recruit for your positions? What is the level of staff churn within your agency? Why didn’t your new hire stay with you longer?

Let’s face it, working in digital can be tough. The industry is fast paced, involving multiple technologies and more often than not suffers from a great deal of hype with more spin than a Tony Blair-led Labour Government.

What many of us fail to realise is that digital services are just like coffee. We all have a favourite. Some are better than others. Price doesn’t necessarily pertain to quality. They all contain the same basic ingredients and are served up in similar packaging. And just like coffee, digital services are addictive. In a nutshell, digital is just another commodity that feeds off supply and demand.

Individuals have a thirst to learn but treat their career like a journey on a fast-moving train. Once they have called at all the stations, they want to get off or start a new journey, leading to high staff turnover and lack of basic knowledge. My Google representative recently commented that an MEC team member and I were his longest serving “client-lead partnership”. We had been working together for just under 12 months at the time!

So what can we do to combat this?

Firstly, we need to address training within the industry. I learnt my trade “on the job”. Previous roles gave me the confidence and “know-how” in terms of client servicing and workload planning, however my technical skills were honed by working on exciting pieces of client business.

The digital world has its share of over-achievers. They certainly know their YouTube from Pinterest and Twitter, however we can’t always assume they are au fait with basic business skills and the servicing of multimillion-dollar pieces of business.
Within any agency team, you will notice the expressives, the amiables, the drivers and analytic types. They all may be doing the same role, yet they are all different and respond in different ways. Make the on-boarding process easy. Lay out your stall and make people want to work with you, not for you.

All my staff have regular reviews. I know what their strengths are, what they want to achieve and where they want to be. I encourage them to attend NGEN courses, to study for and obtain the relevant industry qualifications, to read blogs and to participate. I can help point them in the right direction and share my knowledge, however growth and learning is a two-way process.

Creating a vision and empowering your staff to take decisions, makes them feel valued, part of team and hopefully more inclined to stay with you. A global network such as MEC (part of GroupM) is able to offer the opportunity to move within the group, attend company courses and develop as the business grows.

By providing challenging and exciting work, learning and development opportunities, supportive management and creating a culture of recognition, value and respect, the industry can hold onto the “good ones”.

But there’s another factor currently at play – and that’s the industry’s use of the salary carrot as a recruitment tactic. This misguided tactic is giving rise to the “salary Kangaroo”, often seen bouncing from agency to agency every six to 12 months, in pursuit of the next $10K pay rise.

Recruiters have a clear role to play in this process. It is not acceptable to have the same candidate pitched by three different recruiters with a $20K differential in their salary expectations. My other favourite tactic is “one out” and “one in”, whereby a recruiter approaches your staff about “ a new and exciting role”, and then bombards you with CVs for potential replacements.
My advice, work with a few trusted recruiters and develop partnerships, so they get to know you, your agency and your staffing requirements.

But let’s not kid ourselves – digital is a commodity and supply and demand means that the market is always going to have a certain level of churn. However, by being strategic and creating opportunity within teams, we can nurture and grow talent. (For the record, I have lost one team member in 12 months).

Skinny flat white anyone?

Alex Hancocks
Head of Search
MEC

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