Why isn’t there enough talent to go round in the agency business? Just
ask any senior manager in any advertising, PR, sales promotion or direct
marketing agency who is looking for top quality staff at any level. It’s
like walking through quicksand.
The interesting thing is that most will blame the lack of young blood
coming into the industry, or head-hunters who haven’t bothered to
understand their brief.
However, in my opinion the answer to this problem lies fundamentally in
their own hands. Training. In the depths of the recession training was
one of the first things to get the chop. Not only did the budget go, but
with it went most agencies’ fragile commitment to the whole process.
Anybody remember the School of Communication Arts ?
It was Bill Bernbach who talked all those years ago about your most
precious assets going up and down in the elevators every day. He was
right. But for too many agencies getting the most out of your staff is
to develop a ‘hire and fire’ policy and then moan about the lack of
talent around when you try to replace them.
Some are now resorting again, in desperation, to paying Alan Shearer-
style salaries for all levels of personnel. Yet the industry has seen
its margins dramatically cut over the last few years, and if this trend
continues the only thing that will happen is even more pressure on
margins, and a drop in the level of service and a further decline in
We could do worse than to learn from clients. Most major clients are
trained much better than their agency counterparts. I met a brand
manager from Seagram last week who had been on a three-day course on
presenting on his new laptop! His agency counterpart will be lucky if he
gets a day’s training.
Is it any wonder that the ‘balance of power’ has swung so far away from
most agencies when clients usually see themselves as much better trained
and better prepared to capitalise on more productive ways of working?
The gulf will continue to widen until more agencies develop a
fundamental commitment at a senior level to developing their staff. The
answer lies not with just token training sessions among a few employees
but a genuine commitment from those who run an agency to develop all of
their staff to do their job better. Like so many things in agency life,
unless they are really behind it the whole subject will be quickly
forgotten. Get it right and you can look to create agencies with
tangible and competitive points of difference. Agencies that offer
clients superior levels of service through genuinely better-trained
A few have recognised this. For example, The Grey Group and Leo Burnett
have recently committed themselves to the government’s Investors in
People scheme, which helps build a training and development scheme to
match the company’s business objectives. But these are the exceptions.
Proper, well-constructed training at all levels should be a fundamental
part of any well-run agency. Just ask a client.
Simon Rhind-Tutt is managing director of The Tutt Consultancy