On Tuesday 7th October, over 175 senior UK agency staff got together in the Millbank tower, London to explore how agencies can better compete for talent, including attracting recruits that reflected the cultural and ethnic make-up of society and with the right creative and technical skills, as well as retention. The event was the final strand of IPA President Ian Priest’s ADAPT agenda designed to create a platform to improve commercial creativity and I was invited as a guest of the IPA.

Brand Advertising needs to think long term
Brand Advertising needs to think long term

I couldn’t write another blog without banging my long term effectiveness drum from this year’s IAPI ADFX Awards. As the day progressed there was an agreement that the industry needed to be as diverse as their audience and consumers and at present this didn’t exist. They didn’t feel the UK agencies were diverse enough by ethnicity or by age (Baby boomers and Gen Y).

According to the latest IPA census; 88.8% of employees were identified as being from a white background and by ethnicity 11.2% from a non-white background.  The proportion of employees who are from a non-white background has increased over the last six surveys from 8.2% in 2008 to 11.2% in 2013. This got me thinking about how diverse is the Irish advertising industry?

Looking at the latest Irish census result from 2011, Ireland’s ethic and socio-economic breakdown has changed over the past number of years.

Ethnicity                               % Breakdown
Irish .                                    85.8%
Any other white background   9.3%
Any other Asian background   1.5%
African                                  1.3%
Other                                    0.9%
Irish Traveller                        0.6%
Chinese                                 0.4%

Socio Economic Group                                     Breakdown
A. Employers and Managers                              4,588,252
B. Higher Professionals                                     295,586
C. Lower Professionals                                      556,587
D. Non-manual                                                 931,068
E. Manual Skilled                                              386,742
F. Semi-Skilled                                                 359, 725
G. Unskilled                                                     151,949
H. Own account workers                                   196,774
I. Farmers                                                        166,231
J. Agricultural                                                  23,504
Z. All others gainfully occupied and unknown    814,954


These are our consumers and I think it would be fair to say that we as an industry don’t reflect this and we need to act on this.  If every agency appointed a senior board member to champion ethnic and social diversity tomorrow that would certainly be a start to protecting the future of our industry.

Build a long term business plan for talent

I whole heartedly agreed with Sarah Baumann, Group Talent Strategy Director for Leo Burnett who spoke at the event.  “Linking training to business goals, developing a long term plan for talent, and putting continuous professional development at the heart of the agency’s culture, pays dividends” Leo Burnett UK’s public commitment to this was demonstrated, by its status as one of only 13 IPA members to be awarded Platinum status for its CPD programme commitment. “All this sends out a powerful message to the talent we are trying to recruit, as well as to our clients. They want us to be the best we can, and they can be confident we are focussing on our talent.”

In order to achieve this you need total buy in from the top of your agency and it should be embedded in your agency’s culture.  This isn’t about money but about investing in your staff to be the best. IAPI run a number of training programmes, off the shelf; in association with the IPA and EACA, and bespoke training in presentation skills and coding. We have a top 10 ranking of agencies who participate in IAPI training. If you want to show commitment in this area appoint a senior staff member as head of talent and develop a three year strategy.

Attracting ‘unicorns’ to our industry

In the afternoon the audience was spilt up into AdaptLabs of working groups, problem solving various issues. My group was looking at how we fill the future skills gap.

The main issue was removing the “luck” and “the who you know” in order to get into advertising. We agreed that this wasn’t something we could solve in an hour but as an industry we needed to become more open to grads from different disciplines, and different ethnics and social backgrounds. We viewed Data Analysts etc… as roles we need to fill in our industry, but the reality that dawned on us all was, that advertising as career wasn’t on their radar. Below are some of the suggestions our team came up with;

  • We need to create digital role models within our industry.
  • Create a campaign for brand Advertising
  • Agency leaders need to be prominent on social media such as twitter and LinkedIn.
  • Less cookie cutting recruitment. Employ people with the skills you need rather than fill a gap. Keep in mind the skills you will need in the future.
  • Be more creative in our approach to recruitment.
  • Career stands for advertising at career fairs.
  • Create cultures in our agencies that promote flexibility and work/life balance.
  • The event was a real eye opener and any of the HR or Senior Managers that I spoke with at the event were eager to go back to their agencies and make some changes for the long term rather than the normal year on year basis.

What can IAPI and its members do?

  • IAPI can put ethnic and social diversity on its agenda for 2015
  • IAPI members can appoint talent ambassadors
  • Encourage staff to become involved in IAPI Future Heads and get more involved in their industry
  • Open our doors to graduates from all courses
  • Champion digital role models.
Ian Priest has held a number of Adapt events looking at issues such as Alliances, Diversification, Agility, and Performance in addition to this event on Talent during 2014. Ian will be discussing the findings and strategy going forward for the IPA as a result of these dedicated events to IAPI members at our AGM on November 7th, 12.30 in the Guinness Storehouse, Dublin 8.

In the meantime the Future Heads group are talking to students across a wide range of universities this month about working in advertising, let’s support them through actions and less words.