Jun 6, 2007

Hug It Out

This week’s AdAge has an article about ex-BBH chief Cindy Gallop, who is working to revamp a venerable London headhunting (err- “talent recruitment”) agency and turn it into something resembling CAA or the fictional Miller Gold.

The idea is that there’s a lack of talent in the advertising and marketing business and that companies need to look beyond the usual suspects to find the talent they need. And that there’s a perception in the advertising business that actually looking for a job is an act of desperation, that agencies seek out good people and hire them, not the other way around.

So far, so good.

A look at the company’s web site reveals a promise to manage their talents careers and to find out what’s important to them. To put you, the advertising talent, in the drivers seat in terms of job hunting.

Again, this sounds promising. Though I’ve heard it many, many times before. From people who meant it and people who didn’t. I remain skeptical that just saying that you want to put talent in the drivers seat makes it so. Agencies aren’t organized enough to make proactive hiring decisions (freelancing is still the best way into an agency, especially a good one) and high client turnover makes staffing a very inexact science.

Having a global pool to draw from, as Ms. Gallop’s company will, should help, as American agencies still hold onto the belief that hiring someone who’s been a big hit in Barcelona is a lot more glamorous and avant garde than hiring someone who’s been a big hit in Boston.

But none of this actually addresses the industry’s biggest problem: compensation. Or lack thereof.

This is a real issue at the higher end of the spectrum, where CD-level salaries have dropped precipitously over the past five to ten years. And it matters a lot because people get into this business to get rich. Or something close to rich. And if all they have to look forward to is running a creative group for $175K/year, then they’re not signing on. Not when there are so many other, better paying options.

I’m not sure what’s causing the salary drop, but every headhunter I’ve spoken to as of late has commented on it. Big agencies, or big agency networks, are making as much money as they used to while employing far fewer people than they ever did before. The John Wrens of the world are still raking it in (as per a report in Adweek) but people aren’t getting into advertising in the hopes of being one of the dozen people to run a big agency network. Part of the problem is that there are fewer people in the business. Which means fewer CD positions and fewer big agencies who have the wherewithall to pay that kind of scratch. But that's only part of it.

Because what exactly does a John Wren do to deserve $13 million a year?
What kind of value does he add to the agency business?
If you can answer that, you are, like Bob Garfield, a lot smarter than me.

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