Where will all the talent land?

After the advertising industry shed thousands of jobs last year, the great talent reset is starting to settle in.

You can’t shake a snow globe and expect all of the flakes to land in the exact same place.

That’s what’s happening in the ad industry right now, as thousands of job losses during the pandemic reshape the market. As companies finally start to hire again and people head back to work, organizations are seeking to recoup the talent they’ve lost. 

The question is, do people want to go back to their old jobs, or the industry they had been working in? Do they want to go back to the five-day, 9-to-5 work week? Or do they see an opportunity to reshape their careers and work-life balance entirely?

Now that the U.S. is turning the corner on the worst of the pandemic, companies may find that the talent they once employed has moved on to greener pastures.  

recent report on the future of work by We Are Rosie indicates that people are looking for change: 68% of marketers would prefer a different work status, and 63% are planning a career move. The report, which surveyed more than 7,000 marketers, found that 100% of respondents want to continue to have the option to work remotely.

Junior turnover in marketing and advertising is always high. But turnover in the past year has not been limited to junior levels. Facebook’s Carolyn Everson and David Fischer are the most high profile examples of big name executives leaving long time posts, but other marketers such as Bank of America’s Lou Paskalis and Patrón VP of digital Adrian Parker have also left their positions. 

The CMO tenure dropped to 40 months this year, its lowest in a decade. That was reflected in Campaign US’s CMO 50 list, released earlier this month, where nearly half of the marketers honored had just started in new positions — a sign of rampant turnover in the space wrought by the pandemic. 

Agencies aren’t immune to high-level turnover either. Just last week, TBWA\London CEO Sarah Tate stepped down to start her own consultancy and focus on leadership coaching. 

Anecdotally, I hear that the market for ad tech and mar tech talent is extremely hot, as people search for solutions to structural changes such as the disappearance of third-party cookies, and e-commerce moving front and center in advertising strategies. This technical talent has its pick of companies to work for in advertising and beyond.

As the dust settles, agencies and brands will have to compete for talent. There’s no question about that. They can do so by making their workplace the most attractive among a sea of options. No, agencies won’t be able to offer salaries to compete with the Facebooks, Googles and Amazons of the world, but they can do a few things right to show talent that they care about their wellbeing, mental health and career growth. 

Leadership may be yearning to get everyone back into the office five days a week, but if 100% of a pool of 7,000 marketers indicate that they want to continue to have the option to work remotely, think about how inflexible structures may impact your chance of scoring the best talent. 

With big tech companies already setting the standard by committing to 100% remote work options for the foreseeable future, the advertising industry will have to figure out a way to “hybrid” effectively to stand a chance to compete. 

Prioritizing mental health is no longer negotiable. Younger talent in particular has no patience for being overworked and undervalued, and the world is their oyster when it comes to choosing the organizations they want to work for. 

Inclusion and equity are also key components of talent retention. Commit to creating an inclusive environment for all talent, and it will do wonders in setting your company apart from the pack in a buyer’s market.    

No matter what companies do to make themselves more attractive, turnover is inevitable as the industry adapts to new business models better suited to modern marketing. And while I do think the exodus to freelancing is overhyped (people need health benefits, after all), agencies and marketers should look carefully at why some talent is choosing to leave the security of a full-time job to venture out on their own. 

The industry should look at this talent shake-up as an opportunity as opposed to a crisis. The agency business model and culture has been under pressure for a long time, and there’s nothing like a good shock to the system to reset in a more productive, sustainable way. 

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