Multiple platform majors in the domains of tech, OTT, food delivery, short-form videos, and start-ups, amongst others, have resorted to announcing organisational restructuring which is accompanied by a slew of widespread layoffs.
This is being done partly due to the pandemic-induced over-hiring and the recent global recession forecasts which led to companies of all sizes downsizing on a massive scale.
Of this laid-off workforce, there are several people who had once moved out of ad agencies to join the Googles, Amazons and Metas of the world, along with various other national players like ShareChat, Zomato, Swiggy etc.
The advertising industry can use this as an opportunity to pull back the once-lost talent back into the system.
Suveer Bajaj, Co-founder of Zoo Media and Foxymoron, stated that one can look at the matter of concern here from two perspectives. On one hand, there's definitely an opportunity that exists to pull back the talent that's gone to platforms owing to the common inherent belief that such platforms offer stable career opportunities, the possibility of infinite scale and better pay scales than companies that operate in the services business.
“With this massive head-roll strategy, there's an opportunity for the talent to come back into the market and there's definitely an opportunity for creative agencies to pull back the earlier lost talent,” he said.
Bajaj went on to state that the challenge herein remains that there hasn't been a no-price normalisation with such talent, implying that if a person ‘x’ was getting paid Rs 50 in a creative agency and later on ‘x’ was being offered Rs 80 at such platforms, then he/she is not going to come back at Rs 50- 60 to the agency.
In his views, the other perspective germinates from the aforementioned practice only as the agency P&L is under as much stress and the agencies are working on wafer-thin margins, which have really taken a beating because of the recession around the corner, which is why in his views, agencies are not going to be able to afford to bring this talent back in on a full-time basis.
Temujin Mansukhani, Senior Business Development Manager- Digital Transformation, Schbang, also said that as agencies transition to offering more comprehensive services to businesses, the current environment is an excellent chance to snag talent and leverage their skills to discover how they can improve the marriage between creativity and technology as a holistic service to further add value to businesses through their transformative journeys.
Nupoor Pradhan, Head-People Operations, SoCheers, said, “I believe that the ‘creative agency ecosystem’ is quite dynamic by nature and, aspects like work culture, environment and growth play a vital role for us to attract and retain talent. There is definitely an opportunity to retain or pull back good talent.”
She also cited the example of a person who had moved on from agencies in the past and said that he/she will definitely see job security as an important factor with their older workplace in the current volatile environment - and this is simply because they have personally experienced the agency in all aspects.
Sharing his views on the topic, Indrajeet Mookerjee, President- South and West, dentsu Creative India, stated that today’s workforce is extremely dynamic and that ‘good’ talent seeks opportunities that let them make an impact and can help them with expressing themselves.
“As an industry, we are a bunch of problem solvers. The talent too is seeking opportunities to solve challenging problems creatively, and there is no better place than agencies that have a diverse portfolio of clients, all with different problems to solve for,” he opined.
As per Mitesh Kothari, Co-founder and CCO, White Rivers Media, the pandemic has changed a lot in terms of how people think about their jobs in the current times, and in his opinion, being a service heavy and asset-lite model, advertising agencies are generally a more stable place to work as most agencies work across categories.
“There has been a good influx of talent across tech, marketing, and partnerships. Talents today want to explore how they can have a bigger impact on everything they work on and find new ways to do so. As long as you provide opportunities to grow and excel, you will always attract the talent,” he opined.
What can creative agencies do to attract talent to the system?
Touching upon what can definitely be one of the top things to attract lost talent while onboarding the new ones, SoCheers’ Pradhan stated that any creative agency should ensure that they focus on creating a workspace that is inspiring enough and allows the team members to explore their creativity as well as passion, along with a persistent effort to develop the skills and enable the teams to grow in their respective career paths.
“Undoubtedly, your employees are your best advocates because attracting talent is much easier when the employees feel that their contributions are recognised and valued along with personal growth and mental peace. Therefore, such an environment is a mandate and of course, fair compensation plays an equally important role here,” she added.
As per Schbang’s Mansukhani too, modern creative agencies may be able to attract the talent lost if they can show and support with a proven track record that they've successfully integrated new technologies into their service offerings to help businesses thrive.
He also went on to add that ‘good’ talent is always rewarded and compensated across industries, including the creative industry, as ultimately it is great to work that drives successful and profitable agencies, and the fruits of the agency’s success are justly shared amongst all those who contributed towards it.
Zoo Media’s Bajaj also shared a slightly different take on the matter and said that because the gig economy has actually become real with freelancers, consultants, and project leads becoming a routine, people aren’t required to work on a full-time basis in their respective companies anymore.
In his opinion, because people today have the opportunity of being a project lead to being a consultant or freelancer, they can be shooting stars who come in and swoop out anytime they want. Through this, they get the best of both worlds, in the form of freedom and flexibility in the new post-pandemic normal, and it is something that agencies can definitely do in terms of their flexible-working policies to attract talent back into the industry.
But can ad agencies remunerate professionals at par with big tech companies and startups?
In the views of SoCheers’ Pradhan, good talent is valued and is paid fairly well as per the industry standards and if one’s work contributes to the organisation's growth, they will pay well to retain and grow their talent, irrespective of their nature.
“It is quite simple that any organisation, whether a creative agency or a corporate, will look for fair pay to retain good talent versus the hiring and training cost incurred to onboard new team members. While people do move out of the creative industry because of the higher salary packages, we see a lot of people still working in this industry and witnessing tremendous growth in their journeys,” she pointed out.
Similarly, Zoo Media’s Bajaj also pointed out that when it comes to taking an organisational average and benchmark of what people get paid in services versus product or platform setups, it is true that the pay scales are completely different.
He also went on to state that the services industry in the creative space is a highly devalued industry as the biggest organisational overhead for any agency is its headcount that is directly billable to clients on an FTE basis, who are then in charge of putting a massive amount of pressure to bring these rates down.
“For centuries, the creative class that comprised of poets, writers, potters, loomers, artisans, and the likes have been subjected to unwarranted prejudice of not being professions of value. The creator economy, which includes us, advertisers, continues to face this prejudice,” he opined.
Furthermore, he also went on to state that one may easily argue that the values and efforts of agencies are under constant threat and question the limited nature of their tangible contributions to the growing economy.
“The industry constantly views us (and other service providers) with a critical lens, as they are the ones cutting the cheques. Also, since we contribute to softer metrics like brand equity, awareness, consideration, creation of goodwill, etc., ours is a ‘perceived’ value to most organisations. The real value (according to them) is probably driven by sales and that is what reflects in our compensation structures on a daily basis,” he highlighted.
Elaborating further, Bajaj stated that both clients and competitors often tend to exercise their position of power to instil a fictional sense of fear when it comes to losing business owing to shorter turnaround and affordable talent which is why advertisers feel the need to go the extra mile to be able to earn at par with their corporate companions.
“Since clients pay fees to agencies, it automatically puts them in a position of power and probably leads them to believe that they have the leverage to push us discriminatorily in terms of time, deliverables, cost, etc. While the creative class may be getting its due in terms of the dignity of labour, the same can hardly be said for the commercial value of our time and efforts,” he opined.
Addressing the ‘competition’ factor, Bajaj also pointed out that when an agency refuses a weekend turnaround time or asks for higher pay, clients are quick to retort with the threat of taking business elsewhere as there are “plenty of players who are willing to work shorter timelines and for less pay” which weakens the ad agency’s argument of their experience holding true in the backdrop of affordable talent and the shorter timelines. This in his opinion, has also been one of the primary reasons for demeaning culture as well as the creation of a fictional sense of fear amongst agency players.
Moreover, he also went on to emphasise that there is still a long way for economic parity to vanish unless the creator economy is supported wholly by all industries.
What pushed talent to move out of the agency set up to join tech majors, start-ups, etc.?
Touching upon the various reasons responsible for the outflow of talent from the adland into other international and domestic bodies, dentsu Creative’s Mookerjee stated that because the past few years saw the emergence of ambitious and well-funded founders driving the start-up ecosystem, opportunities that promised high-velocity growth and high compensation took away talent from agencies to start-ups.
As per Schbang’s Mansukhani, what may be one of the probable reasons for top talent to flock to other companies like Meta and Google from the agency setups is that the former players are the pioneers in the space of omnichannel commerce and experience-driven commerce which is at the heart of brand growth and business/digital transformation.
SoCheers’ Pradhan also shared the view that today's generation is working towards following their passion and making a career while doing that and even though monetary growth may be a common reason for talent to move out, lack of creative freedom is one of the major reasons too.
She also went on to add that in conjunction with this, great leadership is both an important and motivating factor for people to continue with any organisation.
“Appreciating the team for the amazing work they have done is one of the best ways to keep your team motivated. But most importantly, being empathetic towards everybody is a must,” she opined.
As per WRM’s Kothari what matters the most for today’s generation is the culture and thus if an agency setup has a vibrant and welcoming culture, the agency body will always be desired by all.
“Nowadays, talent is moving to new-age companies with a culture that suits their lifestyle and where they get opportunities to express their creativity without any restrictions,” he added.