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Managing talent and culture in larger agencies  

Talent is a much talked about subject for any business.  How to find it, how to retain it and how to get maximum value from the talent and people you invest in.

There is often a misconception that large creative companies find it easy to attract and retain talent because of their scale and brand however often this scale and established brand can be counter-productive. 

Over my 15 years recruiting the best talent for agencies in the Design and Branding market I have noticed some common themes that impact upon recruitment and talent, especially for larger companies.

How do you know what you don’t know?


Now this challenge affects small and large agencies alike. How to invest in talent when your clients’ spend is unpredictable with limited visibility. The age old problem of “we can’t hire yet as we don’t have the budget” becomes “we won the pitch so we need someone now, in fact yesterday”. 

Burn-out and lack of resource coupled with often an ineffective recruitment strategy and process places higher stress on key people. This in turn drives the need for more people but often without the leadership alignment, budget, time or necessary planning to set recruitment up for success.

The blessing or curse of the pub!

Once an agency reaches a certain scale its reputation grows and becomes something less controllable than when the business was smaller. The legacy from “unhappy campers” can have a devastating impact on an entire company’s reputation, even if proportionally these people are in the minority. This can happen in a very short space of time but getting the positive “pub PR” back can take years, if at all!

How do you keep the heart beating?

The larger the company the harder it can be to genuinely create and retain emotional loyalty and connection with its people. A growing or established larger business needs to professionally and proactively look after operations and talent as it evolves. The challenge is to keep true to the core values and offer which made the agency a success in the first place.

Who has the keys to the car?

Often there can be huge disparity between the owners of a large, or group owned, agency and the direct line managers, when it comes to hiring and prioritising talent needs. Line Managers need to hire but can’t due to company policy or lack of revenue forecast. This fuels the fires of uncertainty, builds frustration, affects morale and begins the cycle of reactive stress-fuelled recruitment. It can also prompt key talent to leave creating more stress for the business and make client relationships vulnerable. It also costs more in terms of talent replacement and bringing new people effectively up to speed.

So how can larger agencies combat these problems? 

Invest in your culture. Don’t make any assumptions about how people feel about the business. Keep in touch with what makes your agency special, unique and compelling. Once you understand this, invest in what’s working culturally and make it even better. Get the message out there across all talent touch points including established and new hires, ex-employees, select recruitment partners, target talent and don’t forget to include the leaders of the business itself. Then keep doing this!

Create an effective recruitment strategy and process. How many agencies effectively brand their internal recruitment material or the experience with prospective talent? In my experience, probably less than 5%! Make sure you have a recruitment journey for people to enjoy and take away a positive brand view of the company, regardless of whether you hire them or not – everyone is a potential brand ambassador and link to your next big win.

Get the basics right. Train the people who interview on behalf of the agency to deliver a great interview and be effective at assessing talent. Be timely and courteous with all communication pre and post interviewing talent. Don’t kiss lots of frogs; be clear on what you need. Stay committed and make the time available to meet people and stick to arrangements. It doesn’t give a good impression if an interview keeps being moved!

Empower people to make decisions. Hiring by committee is not always the best way. Too many cooks etc! It is good to empower leaders to hire new and fresh people and ensure that an established culture keeps being enriched by new ways and new thinking.

Be brave!  There is a huge opportunity for a company to really break the mould when it comes to talent and recruiting. Re-invent the experience, make it unique and make it something people are itching to personally experience and you will boost the pro-active talent approaches to your business and reduce recruitment costs.

Be authentic. No matter if you are big or small, are someone who has been with the business since conception or a newly appointed leader. Whoever is conducting the interviewing and connecting with key talent needs to be authentic in their approach. It does help if authentic means engaged, positive, excited, informed, committed and inspiring. There is nothing more off-putting than a jaded or disconnected leader!

Build a community. Invest in getting to know exciting people. Create on-going relationships with key talent prospects so recruitment can be controlled and proactive when needs arise. Simply put care about the people you connect with – it goes a long way.

About: Sally Henderson

My purpose is to help people be happy and effective at work. Simple words that have a big effect on profit, performance, recruitment and fulfilment.

With 15 years’ experience and having successfully created and managed my own consultancy my expertise lies in understanding how to get the best out of people at work.

All my work creates and builds emotional loyalty and accelerates high performance at work. I place great emphasis on understanding each company, how it is unique and the specific results required by clients.

I create and run bespoke workshops/training sessions, deliver senior coaching programmes and undertake select senior recruitment assignments.
I enjoy working with clients who actively recognise the value of investing in their people and talent.

Image credits: © Revensis | Dreamstime.com