Is adland able to attract the top talent?

For most students at the start of this new term, the end of the academic year seems far away indeed. For those readers in jobs and looking back fondly on their student days, however, thoughts of the salad days of June probably seem further away still. Nonetheless, now is an opportune moment to reflect on the year ahead – and for those embarking on their studies to consider the career options open to them.

The debate over whether the advertising industry does enough to attract the "best" graduates (although, as Rory Sutherland expostulated earlier this year, these aren’t necessarily those with the best degrees) is not new. In the past, it has been the banks, the law and other "professions" that have been deemed to be the main threat – offering, as they generally do, better starting packages to those who would otherwise be suits or planners.

But, nowadays, it’s the technology companies that look rather more attractive – and they offer opportunities to those who might previously have considered joining any of the advertising disciplines. So, is advertising doing enough to attract the top graduates or top new talent?


Magnus Djaba, chief executive, Saatchi & Saatchi

"We all do our bit as agencies to attract the best young people
(we have a successful summer scholarship scheme), but I don’t
think we do enough as an industry to promote what’s brilliant about advertising. When I got my first job in 1996, I earned £14,000 a year. Since then, the gap between what we can pay and what the City can pay has grown to vast proportions. If we want to attract the best people, but can’t offer them extravagant salaries, then we must set our creative minds to find new ways to demonstrate the adventure, creativity and excitement that a career in advertising can offer."


Russ Lidstone, chief executive, Havas Worldwide London

"In order to attract people with ability, we have to recognise we are no longer engaged in a war for ‘talent’ but battles for ‘aptitude’. In the ever-changing landscape, we need people with inherent ability who can also evolve, adapt and learn at speed. At Havas, we are increasingly looking for ability in unusual places – we were one of the first agencies to sign up to the tech accelerator The Bakery and are running two excellent internship programmes, as well as radically evolving our grad scheme. Critically, in order for our industry to attract talent, we need to demonstrate how we enable (to quote Dan Pink) a sense of ‘mastery, autonomy and purpose’."


Charlie Rudd, managing director, Bartle Bogle Hegarty

"Talent is the only asset an agency has. Recently, the industry has started to attract talent from more diverse places. We have broadened our youth policy, for example, to include three distinct programmes to help us attract the best. The biggest issue we will face with talent, however, is not attraction but retention. A brutally tough recession has led to agencies working harder and faster than ever under greater financial pressure. We need to ensure that this doesn’t compromise the quality of our people or chase them out of the industry. With our clients, we need to make sure advertising remains a truly rewarding and stimulating industry."


Ben Bilboul, group chief executive, Karmarama

"When I was fresher-faced and redder of hair, working for an agency was highly attractive. Advertising offered creativity, variety and a sense that, if you went out for drinks after work, you might come home with your pants on the wrong way round – trouble is, the competition got better. It’s a tougher pitch in a marketplace where many industries claim they’re the best homes for innovative thinkers with an entrepreneurial mindset and the ambition to change the world. When you add in their commitment to training, we can look like also-rans. We need to do more to offer the same level of commitment to nurturing careers."


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