Oct 18, 2021


Inside the War for Talent: What Holding Companies Are Doing to Attract Job Seekers

The pandemic remains one of the great disruptors the advertising industry has ever dealt with. Aside from throwing the global economy for a loop, it sped up the rate of ecommerce adoption, launched Zoom and other video conferencing apps to the top of the technology food chain and, most significantly, it altered the employment habits of agencies and staff around the world. Many agencies furloughed employees as brands slashed budgets during global uncertainty in 2020, and others decided to make waves of layoffs. Many of those frustrated by the industry decided that they would get out while they could as the “great resignation” took hold.

As the economy started to figure itself out, with businesses pivoting to remote work and ecommerce, agencies started hiring again, but this time in a candidate market, giving employees more choice in employment. For some agencies, the new economy opened up new opportunities, as they realized they could be more flexible and cull talent from anywhere to handpick top candidates. Employees realized that they could now make themselves available to agencies that might have previously been out of reach, due to geography. It also made the job market much more competitive, as agencies had to get more creative to grab the best and most diverse talent available.

“Right now is the most exciting time to be looking for a job and to be looking for talent,” Mojo Supermarket founder and creative director Mo Said explained during Adweek’s Elevate: Independent Agencies discussion. “A little bit ago, all of the smart people ran to big tech companies because they wanted more direct access and influence over the work. Now we’re kind of seeing the blow back from that because they want to go work at a creative company. So, you’re getting all of this talent with different experiences for the first time.”

The war to grab that talent is intense, as some agencies are being outbid by upwards of $50,000 for the right person. Another agency told Adweek it upped starting salaries for junior employees by $20,000. Huge CEO Mat Baxter told Adweek earlier this year that “in 20 years, this is the toughest talent market I’ve ever seen. Ever.” Shops of all sizes, from small independents to holding company giants, are having to adapt to new ways of hiring.

One might think that with the backing of well-funded holding companies, their agencies could handpick any talent they want compared to the leaner independents that might not be able to afford to dish top salaries. In reality, the holding companies are in competition with those independents because compensation isn’t always the most important factor. For this story, Adweek spoke to the major holding companies about what they’re doing to retain talent.

IPG didn’t respond to requests to participate in this story.

WPP makes career mobility easier

To keep people within the company, WPP has democratized mobility with its Career Explorer program, allowing its people to move across brands and around the network.

“We did everything from rolling back any restrictions, caps on salary increases. We made it where people didn’t have to notify their manager until they got to offer stage,” global head of talent acquisition Shannon Moorman told Adweek. “We posted all of our open roles in one place on WPP.com and have socialized and promoted it across our global network and encourage people to go out if they feel like they reached a ceiling in their current company, they want to learn something new or take a new opportunity within the network.”

WPP has also broadened its talent search with several programs. It has invested in over 60 partnerships worldwide around diversity, equity and inclusion, reaching outside the conventional places where the company would typically find marketing and communications talent. It’s hitting HBCUs, working with Black talent networks like the Lagrant Foundation in the U.S. and the Brixton Finishing Academy and D&AD in the U.K.

The company is also investing in multiple scholarship programs around the globe for underrepresented predominantly Black talent. For early career employees, WPP has a NextGen Leaders program, a 10-week virtual learning series for college students, recent graduates and those with under two years of experience in any field.

Publicis balances retention and recruitment

Publicis sees the need for flexibility and diversity within its ranks, since its talent demands it. It also puts importance on the expectation of equitable experiences. Geraldine White, chief diversity officer of Publicis Groupe U.S., said that the holding company is focusing on leadership that is both inclusive and makes employees feel a sense of belonging at work.

Employees’ overall contributions to the business should be valued more than the volume of work they produce.

Geraldine White, chief diversity officer, Publicis Groupe U.S,

White stated the industry is focused on diversifying talent because they know the incredible power found in bringing together diverse backgrounds, thinking and ways of working. “While this is not a new insight, we need to carefully navigate what I call the representation-retention paradox: when an organization becomes so closely focused on representation in recruitment that it loses sight of retention, sentiment and creating growth and sustainably equitable environments for talent to thrive in.”

Supporting employees to create a better work/life balance is of importance as well, and Publicis has bolstered offerings and benefits across a broad spectrum, including launching a Black Talent Career Summit, utilizing its 14-plus business resources groups, creating more flexible time off policies, and evolving its benefit offerings to include adoption or surrogacy assistance, childcare, tuition reimbursement, healthcare and insurance and charitable match programs.

In terms of recruitment, Publicis has programs including a multicultural talent pipeline program and virtual recruitment events. It has partnered with HBCUs and other universities and has talent partnerships with trade organizations, and has revamped its recruitment and hiring approach with new mandatory inclusive hiring and recruiting trainings, implemented technology to improve its candidate pipeline strength of Black and diverse candidates in-market, and built a dashboard that will allow the company to measure the impact of these deliverables over time.

Omnicom taps partnerships to find talent

An Omnicom spokesperson said that given the competitive marketplace, in addition to supporting industry programs like AAF and the 4A’s, many of its agencies are also strategically tapping into non-traditional sources of talent. For example, RAPP created an Emerging Leaders Program (ELP) that uses mentorship skills-based learnings to groom creative talent that didn’t graduate from a four-year college or university.

“In addition, Omnicom is reaffirming our D&I efforts externally by continuing to support industry programs that provide educational and career opportunities for diverse talent,” the spokesperson said. Omnicom works with AAF Most Promising Multicultural Students Program, The Lagrant Foundation, 4A’s Multicultural Advertising Intern Program and Adcolor.

Recruiting tactics by Omnicom involve attracting talent through the virtual world, like online assessment and training programs, and agency Ketchum’s re-imagining of its Instagram channel into a culture hub. It also has a long-running Omnicom University to build and train its leadership, and has many employee resource groups.

Dentsu stresses flexibility 

Adweek spoke with Dentsu International CEO Wendy Clark about a number of topics for a story broader than just talent, but she gave some insights into Dentsu’s strategy for attracting and retaining.

There’s an unspoken contract here about how you work, when you work and the ways you want to work. We’ve got to be much more fluid, much more flexible.

Wendy Clark, CEO, Dentsu International

In the U.K., Dentsu, which has a 45,000 person workforce with a median age of 27, is targeting a group of people they call “the returners” as they’re looking at those who left the ad industry who may be open to coming back even if it’s in a part-time capacity. This group includes retirees who still want to work and parents who left work following the birth of their child. “We’re meeting people where they are on the terms they want.”

To retain talent, Clark said the leadership team has gotten more hands on, increasing its visibility within the company and adding transparency during monthly townhalls where Clark takes questions from employees. The result is Dentsu’s highest employee engagement score from the past three years.