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The Longhouse

The future is Z-shaped: the five ways to protect your talent pool

The term 'integrated' has been redefined for our industry. Here's why.

Today's talent wants to diversify, wants challenges, wants to learn a full range of skills and gain broad experience. Our future leaders will run truly integrated comms organisations.

To build this cross discipline knowledge and to become the best, today’s talent needs must be Z-shaped.

The most effective campaigns deliver integration, channels used effectively in combination – not as box-ticking, matching-luggage exercises; media used to change and optimise messaging to audience segments within a single campaign.

But our output only changes when our input does. Here's how to ensure you’re getting your talent searches right.


  • About people's background and skills – we are a people business, people skills, aptitude and passion should come first.

  • Our outputs are diversifying so quickly we should all be curators of production experience – not experts in it.

  • About education – we’ve seen a trend towards apprenticeships and hands-on experience and away from purely the milk-round grads – the exceptional Karen Blackett pioneered this, of course, but it’s a strategy the industry is adopting widely and readily.  
    - It’s merely a form of working your way up from the post room; learning on the job from the best and by experience.


  • Actually hire some of those 'different' people you claim you’re looking for.

  • Go for smarts and passion over (for example) how many TV campaigns a person has made; your producers can guide the process.

  • Transferable skills are just that. Let people learn the rest on the job.

  • Don’t make excuses for it, make it a virtue. Your clients will learn from them as much as the agency will.


  • Karmarama have taken the lead on what is likely to be the natural next phase in agency development – their union with Accenture is in equal measure inspired and expected.

  • Each and every agency can and should begin to widen the offering, not just within the communications land-grab but business transformation, growth consultancy and innovation.

  • Critically, agencies need to commit to what they profess to want.  

  • The familiar tunes:
    - ‘we want new skills but have they done any TV?’  
    - ‘we’d love to bring new thinking in but someone who's already done branding/ PR/ media [insert existing skillset here]’

  • Only YOU can provide the opportunity – commit and be brave.


  • Future leaders will have 360-views

  • Some of the best examples of our time both switched out of and switched into adland:
    - Jonathan Mildenhall, Mark Read, David Patton, Chaka Shobhani,  – an easy few that spring to mind.

  • We must embrace a generational desire to manage careers carefully along the Z shaped path and not the predictable trajectory.


  • What percentage of churn could have been prevented if the right agency/ group/ international moves had been facilitated?  

  • Foster cultures and support process that allow conversations about change, experience and free movement of people.

  • Give people permission and let people help you with that too, we don't want you to lose the best talent any more than you do!

Helen Kimber is managing partner at The Longhouse

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