The Agency Talent Challenge

I hosted an event recently at Leeds Digital Festival, all about the ‘Agency Talent Challenge”.

The challenge for agencies is this:

> Agency team churn can be dire.

> There’s a general skills shortage (digital, specifically) in creative and marketing agencies.

> Clients are busily in-housing to different degrees (in the context of Leeds the obvious biggies are Sky Bet and – soon – Channel 4. But its the same across the UK).

So what’s an agency owner or director to do?

How do you retain the talent in your agency?

That was the theme of my talk.
With additional thoughts from Darren, who I persuaded to join me and who rose to that particular challenge admirably!

My thoughts fell into one of two camps:
(i) Developing Your Talent and (ii) Holding On To Your Talent.

There’s too much to cover here in one post (get in touch if you want support in this area) but I will summarise my take on the latter.. how to retain ‘the talent’.

Talent is what you sell: invest in it.

Why should you do that (and not just time but actual agency budget)?

  • Keep ahead in your collective skills and knowledge: of both clients and the competition
  • Create actual ‘Thought Leaders’ (too easy a term to use but most folks become just echo chamber participants if they don’t have in-depth knowledge of a marketing topic or creative or production skill).
  • Boost your account growth with new ideas & new business with, well, the same!
  • Providing training and up-skilling initiatives (or constructive play in the form of side projects or innovation labs etc) enthuses the team: they want to develop. (Backed up by some stats I shared in the talk).
  • Proving access to the development of skills, knowledge and careers will actually keep your talent on board, not have them running for the hills.

Side note: during the talk I referenced a resource I produced, all about developing ‘a culture of curiosity’ which complements the other areas that I’m talking about.

Feel free to download that here > Building a commercial culture of curiosity

Back to retaining the talent in your agency… I suggest that is through lens of Happiness.

To quote Friday (great platform, have a look) ‘Happiness’ matters. Sounds maybe a bit trite but it’s true:

> University of Warwick: happy employees are up to 12 per cent more productive.

> Gallup: happy / engaged employees are 21 per cent more productive than their non-engaged counterparts.

Happy folks stick around!

My take on what you can do to improve the overall happiness of your agency:

focus on these four areas…

Clarity, Conviction, Culture, Care.


1. Share the business plan and the numbers

2. Have clear Roles and Responsibilities from day one (pre-hire):
short term and long term vision for the role


3. Drop toxic clients and projects

4. Avoid shitty pitches (you know you should)

5. Pay fairly: respect the team’s value as you’d want clients to respect the agency’s

6. Put it in writing: policies, ethos, how-tos, on-boarding.. e.g create a handbook for the agency.


7. Cash flow and profit should be ahead of funky offices & company trips!
But those things are indeed nice and will improve happiness, once you can afford them.

8. Provide ‘fun’. Don’t enforce it

9. Provide food and drink. But don’t expect everyone to stick about after hours.

10. Create a culture of curiosity and shared learning


11. Look after your team, say hello, say thanks (e.g. Perkbox, birthday day off), ask how things are.

12. Be aware of mental health issues, stress, anxiety and develop wellbeing initiatives to help the team: e.g. MPA Thrive, NABS, BeandDo.

That’s it.. focus on those four themes and the twelve areas within them to rise to the Agency talent Challenge.

There are lots of things to do of course in each area, to get them up and running, but you will see a difference in your churn rate, for the better!

Have I missed anything?

Do you want help developing this area in your agency?

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