Everybody talks about ‘innovation’ in technology but what about innovation in hiring? According to Forrester, in their excellent 2011 predictions post, agencies will continue to hire outside of their traditional heritage. This has been the ‘desire’, especially for creative departments for as long as I can remember, but how often do agencies really put into practice the lip-service they pay to innovative and brave hiring? Especially bringing in skills that are yet to prove billable to the end client. With staff cost ratios still under constant scrutiny it is hard to innovate truly or bring in bold hires that genuinely offer clients a fresh way of thinking or doing. Perhaps it is only those agencies with sufficient war-chests that are able to bring in future or leftfield skills ahead of time. Therefore leading the curve when it comes to offering brands, genuinely, effective solutions to the issues they face selling in a fiercely competitive, flat and still price conscious market. Consumers are being hit hard. How easy is it for clients to be brave in this environment? Can they, in practical terms, stop thinking about their present and start hiring for their future?
We are seeing an increasing demand for creative, design and development that works across mobile and tablet platforms. But as Forrester point out “shiny new objects” crop up all the time. Who and what do you back first as an agency and what is best for the clients that are spending? Are they willing to test new platforms and experiences? And where are the skill shortages if they do? Many will outsource to specialist agencies before eventually bringing in capability themselves. Agencies like Berg will continue to benefit from the desire for agencies to deliver stand out innovation projects to their clients. Again the talent market has to move fast to keep up with new trends but at the same time not losing the existing skills that clients still require to create and deliver current projects. Certainly a headache for decision makers, moreover, a costly one if you back the wrong technology or skills. This makes measurement more important than ever as clients look to see what worked and what did not. However Forrester point out that analytics are still yet to be truly pinned down by the agency world.
Technology innovation will still be a land grab and the people that are needed to do this will continue to come at a premium, especially those that fuse creative thinking with real world products that make consumers lives easier, better or even just plain cooler. The land grab to get the right people might not be just between agencies though. Brands and blue chips continue to bring talent in house and with these organisations being able to look longer term than those agencies on pure project based assignments, maybe this is where we will see the truly radical hiring decisions.
All this continues to strengthen and grow the freelance and contract market. Bringing in these skills on a more fluid basis continues to be the best option for agencies in the short term. However freelancers are transient and can take their expertise from agency to agency. To create a unique proposition, agencies need to ‘own’ these skills which takes us back to the problem of shortages in permanent staff.
Brand consultancies, product and innovation agencies, ad agencies and in house departments will all continue to bring in people, like forester predicts that are outside their heritage. This can only be a good thing but it will also need bold investment to update current skills, bring in new ones and invest in graduate training and development, all against the backdrop of running profitable businesses that effectively deliver for the brands and organisations that trust them to reach consumers.
With price sensitivity still looming large, will fortune favour those brave souls who are able to think creatively about how to address their own skills deficit? And will those with an innovative approach to adding and developing talent outside their heritage be basking in their glories by this time next year?
We would really like to hear from businesses looking to bring in people outside their comfort zones and what real world barriers they face in doing so. Also from people who have joined agencies as the ‘innovation hire’. How did it work? Did you find yourself swimming against the tide or did the agency clients welcome your input with open arms.
With the “great race for relevancy” still being run by agencies. Arguably a race where there is no finish line, only time will tell which hires or what types of investment in people, will keep the best agencies at the head of the pack.
Unfortunately some will end up running just to stand still.