Published in Resource Management

10 Reasons Why Agencies Lose Talent

The Great Resignation is upon us, with record numbers of individuals leaving their jobs across industries. Advertising agencies are being hard hit, with employees facing burnout, looking for remote work opportunities, seeking out a different work environment, or changing course in other ways.

Employee retention is a priority for creative agencies, along with other types of organizations. With an estimated 50% of the advertising industry anticipated to be freelance within the coming decade, keeping talent in-house, as well as improving the recruitment process to gain the additional top talent, is critical.

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Why do agencies lose talent?

1. They promote a culture of competition rather than collaboration.

The problem: Cutthroat culture — one that creates a sense of competition, rather than collaboration — is a major cause of attrition. You want to push your employees to put forth their very best work, of course, but pitting team members against one another isn’t the way to do this. In fact, it does the very opposite: it leads to burnout and prompts employees to leave altogether.

The fix: By this point, it’s common knowledge that millennials, in particular, seek out a work environment that is values-driven and practices what it preaches. That means that advertising agencies and organizations must promote a culture of collaboration. This boosts productivity and overall functionality. It means that people are working with one another, not against one another, and helps employees feel appreciated, valued, and encouraged, which, in turn, is more likely to prompt them to stay.

2. Their recruiting practices are poor.

The problem: Having a solid talent base begins with strong recruiting practices. But many candidates, particularly in competitive industries like advertising, complain that there is a lack of transparency. There are also issues like lengthy timelines, made even worse by hiring managers and recruiters ghosting candidates. Bias too often creeps in as well.

The fix: Use a variety of channels to source candidates, from social media to job boards to referral systems. This will help ensure you’re being inclusive. Once you have a solid applicant pool, use tools that streamline the process and reduce bias, such as applicant tracking software (ATS). Nurture relationships with candidates, keeping them engaged, even if they aren’t your ultimate choice — they could be well-suited to another position at your company down the line.

In some states and cities, employers are required to post salary ranges in their job descriptions or will be required to do so shortly. Even if you don’t have to post salary ranges, it’s a good idea to do so, so you can ensure you’re being fully transparent with candidates.

Evaluate metrics from the hiring process to keep improving and refine your recruiting strategies.

3. There is a lack of career development and engagement.

The problem: You may offer standard benefits, like health insurance and a 401k. Perhaps you have annual performance and salary reviews, too. But talent management and retention require more than this. Candidates need to feel engaged and valued. They want a meaningful career path. They want to learn.

With no initiatives and perks in place to promote career growth and progression, and no opportunities to go beyond their current roles, you will inevitably lose talent.

The fix: Creative agencies need to work on career pathing to ensure that the best talent wants to stay with their organizations. They should provide learning and growth opportunities, such as tuition and education reimbursements and in-house training. In addition, they must ask their employees what they really want in terms of benefits. Perhaps they want the ability to work remotely at least part-time. They might even take a pay cut for more paid time off (PTO). The point is, that compensation goes beyond salary and standard benefits, and you need to think outside the box to meet the needs of your employees.

4. They don’t think long-term.

The problem: It’s hard to think long-term when you’re getting your business off the ground — or even if you’re several years into your operation. But it’s also enormously difficult to attain buy-in from your employees, who will be cognizant that no obvious plan is in place to nurture their growth, and simultaneously promote the growth and well-being of the company. This is frustrating and may lead them to seek out an agency that is thinking well into the future.

The fix: Every marketing and advertising agency must have a clear strategy in place from its earliest operations. They must consider what they will do if and when a crisis happens, both in terms of retaining employees and promoting the growth of their company. Keep building plans to develop new ideas and try out different initiatives to keep your team members invested, engaged, and thriving.

5. They don’t communicate their vision well.

The problem: Sometimes, employees, particularly lower-level team members, are kept in the dark when it comes to the overall mission and goals of an agency. This is naturally frustrating for these workers, who want to believe that they are contributing to their organization and working toward a larger objective. They want to know that their values align with those of their employer and that they are driving change. Otherwise, they will feel neglected.

The fix: Communicate with your team. Even your junior employees should be kept informed about your efforts and more comprehensive vision. Yes, there are probably initiatives that may be kept “need to know” only, but nobody should ever be fully in the dark about what you are aiming toward as an organization. This will help ensure that your employees are engaged and involved — and that their work has genuine meaning.

Project Profitability

6. They become complacent.

The problem: “This is how we have always done it.”

Many of us have been part of organizations that adhere to that philosophy, and it can be exhausting to see it perpetuated. But creative agencies are all about innovation and, of course, creativity, and if they are not constantly and routinely assessing and reassessing their operations and goals, then they risk being left behind in a competitive market.

Employees will feel stuck at an organization that remains in the past, unwilling to embrace new ideas and move forward. This will prompt them to leave your agency for an organization that does value growth and innovation.

The fix: In a changing world, it’s critical for large companies and small ones alike to keep thinking about how they can innovate and refresh. They should welcome new ideas from employees at all levels, including full-time, part-time, and freelance workers. They must stay on the precipice of change, considering creative ways to stand out in a saturated market. And they should always seek to prove to their consumers and employees alike how they are adapting and welcoming thoughts and ideas.

This is also important for profitability, along with employee engagement. If you’re stuck in the past, you will inevitably lose out to competitors who are noticing and embracing the changing landscape and consumer needs.

7. They underestimate the value of performance reviews.

The problem: Too often, performance reviews are treated as a rote exercise, something organizations have to do to manage their employees. They might even be simple forms with checklists that aren’t comprehensive and don’t have anything to do with actual growth. Perhaps they are regarded as a way to identify poor performers, rather than as a system for gaining a clearer view of engagement and overall performance. In other words, it may be either a system to check off boxes or a means of punishing employees.

The fix: Performance reviews can have a significant amount of value, helping your employees stay engaged, formulate goals, and grow in their careers — if you let them. Take the time to hone your system, find ways to treat the performance review as a way to build a relationship between the employee and the employer, better understand your workers’ goals, encourage them to establish new objectives, and nurture their growth. This will help them feel valued, which, in turn, will better engage them in their current roles.

Of course, performance reviews can also be used to identify problems and help employees resolve them before they escalate into larger issues. That’s why it’s also important to have performance reviews regularly, rather than on an annual basis.

8. They don’t reskill their employees.

The problem: The COVID-19 pandemic underscored the need for people to constantly be learning and making themselves indispensable, with new skills and qualifications, across industries. But our world was transforming dramatically and rapidly long before its onset.

The future of work depends on upskilling and reskilling. People need to attain new competencies and be able to apply them across industries. With so much fear of machines replacing human workers, particularly as artificial intelligence (AI) has more and more applications and use cases, we all need to stay ahead of the curve and look for ways to gain skills.

This can’t all be on the employee, though. Employers can’t simply replace employees — they must work to help them attain the skills they need.

The fix: The future of work depends on upskilling, no matter what the role, industry, or company. Creative agencies must develop plans to help their employees grow and attain the skills they need to thrive in their careers.

First, employers must stay abreast of the goings-on and news within their industries to better understand what kinds of competencies are critical in the climate. They also need to consider how to best help their workers attain these skills. Training is just one piece. Employers should also look to external courses, seminars, and programs through platforms such as LinkedIn and edX, allowing their employees to take advantage of these opportunities at no cost or a reduced cost. They should prioritize enhancing the skill sets of their current employees, which will help them attract new talent, too.

Resource Management

9. The leadership is ineffective.

The problem: Leadership can make or break an organization. Without a robust leadership system in place, you will inevitably lose talented employees.

This goes for middle managers as well as executive-level professionals. These individuals set the tone for lower-level employees, who will look to them for guidance. Micromanagement, lack of managerial skills, and faulty communication lines are some of the problems that result from poor or ineffective leadership. And these are often the impetus for employees to leave, even if they enjoy their jobs otherwise.

The fix: Leadership requires strategy. You must have individuals in place who are looking out not only for the organization but for every one of their employees. These people set the tone for the entire agency.

Another problem is that employees who are skilled in their area of expertise aren’t necessarily the best managers. It’s a skill that needs to be taught and cultivated like anything else.

So, when employees are promoted to or hired at a managerial or leadership level, ensure that they receive training.

10. They require too much experience.

The problem: Job seekers at all levels often complain that employers demand too much experience in the hiring process. Even entry-level roles often require years of experience. This is not only unfair to potentially qualified candidates, but it can also be detrimental to employers, who have unrealistic expectations and will potentially lose out on qualified talent.

Moreover, many employers simply won’t even entertain the possibility of hiring individuals without a bachelor’s degree, even when it’s not actually necessary for a particular role.

The fix: Be open to alternatives to degrees. For example, certificate programs and/or a strong portfolio can often serve as an indication of talent and expertise.

Additionally, when crafting job descriptions and sourcing candidates, be mindful of demanding too much experience. Again, look for other indicators that the candidate has what it takes to succeed on the job, such as work samples and references.

Today’s market has a lot to offer in terms of talent, but creative agencies must recognize that there is also an enormous amount of competition for these professionals. If they continue to make the same mistakes, they will lose out and fall behind their peers. That’s why it’s critical that agencies prioritize sourcing, growing, and nurturing their employees, showing them that they value them.

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