Matt Williams: why agencies need to abandon the transfer market and grow their own talent

One of the agencies I’ve always admired is Albion. It’s a bit more interesting than your traditional advertising shop.

A lot of that is because of the company it keeps. It’s always operated comfortably in both the tech world and what we like to call ‘adland’. And because of this, some of the work that’s come out of the agency over the years, and the clients themselves, has always been a little more innovative, a little more edgy than your average shop.

That’s sometimes a blessing as well as a curse. This entrepreneurial spirit and tech obsession meant Albion would always be a ‘wild card’ when the big pitches came around. It would never be a natural choice. I remember being at Campaign and for a good few years in a row the agency would always make a notable appearance in the Digital Agency of the Year running, but would always end up bridesmaid as opposed to the bride. There’d always be an AKQA or Dare doing great work for mainstream, prolific brands like Unilever or Nike that’d trump the clever projects Albion were creating for your giffgaffs or Skype.

But that doesn’t get away from the fact that Albion were always one to keep an eye on. An agency with an entrepreneurial spirit, and a desire to do things differently.

paul-jakimciw-thumbAnd it was good to see last week that this approach hasn’t changed, when the agency announced the appointment of Paul Jakimciw (left) as its new CEO.

Jakimciw first joined Albion as an Account Director in 2008. He was then promoted to business director, group development director and finally managing partner before making his most recent step up.

And that’s what I think is great about the appointment. And the reason I’m uncharacteristically gushing over a specific agency and championing the appointment of a man I’ve never met.

Too often, it seems to me, the advertising industry acts like the football world. You know, the one obsessed with transfer deadline day, where managers are hired and fired every week, and the first answer to an issue is to look elsewhere to bring someone new in.

Agencies are just as obsessed with making waves across the industry and know that hiring a big name from a rival is the best way to do just that. You’ve made an internal promotion to fill that planning director slot? Meh. It’d look more exciting if you grabbed someone from Ogilvy.

We talk a lot about nurturing talent but it seems to be quite a siloed process. A nod at best to the young people in an agency. Where are the clear succession plans and incentives to encourage ‘lifers’?

I appreciate it’s not an easy thing to implement. Particularly when we’re all as stretched and as under pressure as we’ve ever been. But it’s something that’s more important to think about than ever before.

Research suggests that 91 per cent of ‘millennials’ don’t intend to stay in a job for more than three years. This not only puts more of a strain on short-term planning, but can cause quite a distraction when you’re having to think about churn and hiring new people every five minutes.

More importantly, it makes it harder to instil a culture into the agency too. An agency is nothing without its people, and if those people are fly-by-night then any agency culture will be too.

Of course, that’s fine for some agencies. But it’s not how the best are built. Think BBH. Think Goodby Silverstein. You need people who understand the way an agency operates. Who know how to live and breathe the purpose and intentions set out by their agency’s founders. People who only have to get acquainted with the ‘client’ part of a new business deck, not the ‘who we are’ part of it too.

I’ll end this piece how I started it, by picking on an agency I respect. adam&eve/DDB started in 2008 with a clear vision. It grew rapidly thanks in part to the tenacity and smarts of its founders. But those founders weren’t going to be able to hold everything together forever. Eventually they’d need able deputies to step up to the plate.

In 2014, they did just that – not bringing new people in from rival shops but by promoting Mat Goff and Tammy Einav as joint managing directors. Two people who had been at the agency from pretty much its inception, when they were both business directors.

Since then, how have they done? Cannes Agency of the Year, Campaign Agency of the Year, Ad Age’s International Agency of the Year and this very website’s Agency of the Year award on consecutive occasions suggests they’ve done OK.

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About Matt Williams

Matt Williams
Matt Williams is head of content at Partners Andrews Aldridge.