Talking Marketing recruitment
With Zoe Edwards, Principal Recruitment Consultant for The Industry club
I am the host of a podcast called ‘Everybody hates your brand’ which covers everything from CRM to Customer Experience to Brand to Behavioural Science. I also interview some fascinating guests.
From an accessibility perspective, I wanted to turn them into articles as well.
As our Season 3 premiere, (which you can listen to here), we chat with Zoe Edwards Principal Recruitment Consultant for The Industry Club.
She specialises in Planning/Strategy, Senior Account management and Agency management hires in Creative agencies. Prior to that, she spent fifteen-plus years working in large creative agencies as a Business Director.
She gets agencies basically.
We talk about some fascinating and timely topics including:
- where the power lies within the current UK job market
- whether Great Resignation is real or media hype
- what marketing agencies are doing to retain talent
- the future of working from home
- promoting diversity within agencies.
Rob: I’ve always thought that recruitment is like a study in power dynamics. Sometimes the power lies with the people recruiting and sometimes it lies with the job hunters. I would say that the perception right now is that most of the power sits with the job hunters (certainly in the UK). Do you think that is correct and do you think that’s going to change because we’re all looking on the horizon for a recession?
Zoe: I would say for the last six to twelve months and for 80% of creative agencies and direct brands probably the power is with the candidate at the moment.
That is because there is a shortage of people actively looking to change jobs at the moment and there are many roles out there. Lots of agencies looking to hire people. Not so many people looking.
A lot of people sat tight over COVID and didn’t move so there is just a bit of pent-up demand for people moving. There are also other reasons which we can kind of go into in a little bit more detail.
This idea of candidates having the power I think is there. Certainly at the moment where agencies are willing to pay very high salaries to bring people in and some of them perhaps are a little panicked that they can’t get the right talent in.
But I think fundamentally when you’re job searching as a candidate you should still be following the right etiquette and looking for the right role, the right career ambition. Not just being all about salary.
Because I think that if you’re purely salary driven in this market those sort of things might come back and bite you in six months.
There are certainly examples I know where some candidates have potentially doubled their salaries through a move in the last six months, which would make me quite nervous if there are suddenly budget cuts in an agency to be made.
Rob: Like they’ve almost put a target on their backs to a degree?
Zoe: Well I think if you increase your salary above your market worth because in the current climate people are paying more than they need to, and then they make cuts and you’re the most expensive Account Manager or Planner, that’s a watch out.
Also if you get paid much more than you’re probably worth, you’ll probably stay on the same salary for a few years because no one’s going to pay you more.
Rob: One of the things that are happening at the moment is the idea of the Great Resignation. Is that really a thing in your experience or is that something that has been overdone? Are you seeing people decide “I don’t want to do this anymore”? Are they going within the industry or going elsewhere?
Zoe: Whilst it feels like a bit of a cliched headline at the moment, it very much is a thing. I don’t think it’s just unique to advertising agencies and marketing departments. I mean interestingly enough I’ve got a child at Junior school and a quarter of the teachers there are leaving this year because they’re going on to other opportunities or they’re moving house or they’re changing their situation.
I did some research at the beginning of the year because I was realising there was a pattern. A lot of people that I approached were telling me that they wanted to do something different. What I learned is only about 35% of candidates actually wanted to stay in creative agencies.
They were looking for more variety. They wanted to try and experience something different. About a quarter of them are looking at doing career pivots. Totally moving away from marketing and advertising into things that look like they’ve got a higher calling.
They either want to go into something that’s more about sustainability or not for profit. Some are looking to go into things like teaching or career coaching.
I think over COVID people have reflected and realised there are other things they can be doing. And maybe also because those other careers have an equal amount of churn there’s more opportunity to change direction than there has been in the past.
Also, a lot of people have gone client-side whether or not it’s going to an in-house agency or places like TikTok, Meta and Instagram. All of those businesses have taken the opportunity to take some of the talent that’s in agencies.
Rob: So even client-side they are maintaining that kind of creative, strategic edge? Because there’s a difference between that kind of client-side and going to work for Boots or something like that as a Marketing Director. No disrespect to Boots. Fabulous brand obviously!
Zoe: Exactly. But all of that means that when candidates leave agencies they’re just not finding people automatically to fill those roles because there aren’t as many people around.
I think agencies are talking about having anything between a 20% and 50% churn rate in the last year.
Rob: There are push and pull elements to leaving any job. There are things that are pulling people away from an agency — I’ve got a higher calling or I just want to completely change.
The other aspect of any job departure in my book is a push element. So when agencies are thinking about retaining staff what’s working and what isn’t? It’s been a blind spot for agencies in the past because there’s always somebody new to come in. So, how are agencies reacting to all this essentially?
Zoe: I think over the COVID period people were grateful to have jobs and they were working really hard and agencies were jumping really high for their clients.
But I don’t think that is sustainable for a long period of time, so I think there was a lot of burnout. A lot of candidates I’ve spoken to were just exhausted from work.
I’ve seen agencies try and overcome that and some I think are quite successful. Some things I think are a little bit short-term like offering sabbaticals. I’ve seen others offering people slightly different roles. Giving them more diversity and broader opportunities within the roles they’re in which seems to be working quite well.
I’ve definitely seen agencies really investing in training. And when I say training I mean more than the agency doing a lunch and learn. I mean sponsoring them to do a masters in Behavioral Science for example or sending more juniors on IPA or APG courses.
I mean some of these masters are £8 to 12k for two years and that’s a serious investment. I think that will mean that the person will not leave.
Rob: Another retention tactic is the whole hybrid working thing. I was reading an article in Campaign that posited that there was a split between what senior leadership want — which is people in the office and it buzzing and being like “the good old days” — and the rest of the agency actually quite happy doing two days in the office and three days at home or whatever it is.
What are you seeing in relation to that? Is that a thing that’s causing people to leave agencies or to stay because they like the hybrid work? Is an agency like adam&eveDDB going for their Four and Flex model going to be copied?
Zoe: So I think that has definitely been some agencies recently that have decided to steer towards presenteeism. You mentioned adam&eveDDB — there are other agencies I know that are probably going to start implementing that soon.
There are some people who will resign because of that. I’m already having conversations with some of those people because they moved out to Brighton in lockdown or they moved to Norfolk or wherever and it’s not sustainable.
I’m a little bit sympathetic to leadership because when I worked in agencies for the first fifteen years of my career, especially as an account handler, it was fun being in the office and it was fun working with everyone. I know I learned most of the things I knew from the people around me.
So I am sympathetic towards there is a need for being in the office but possibly not four or five days a week.
I mean we all think about working from home and all the benefits that it offers but for younger people it can be tough. If you’re in a flatshare and there’s five of you and you’re arguing over who’s got the wi-fi? Or having meetings at the kitchen table? Or you’re still living with your mom and dad and your brother?
I think the working from home thing’s been really challenging and therefore I think there are a lot of people who are really welcoming that idea of going into the office. But what I also hear from them is they go and there’s no one there and that’s not particularly beneficial either.
So I can see the pros and cons of both. I think where agencies are netting out, which I think is the best, is this idea of at least 2 consistent days in the office where everybody is in to collaborate and to create together.
You’re not allowed just to go in there and just sit on your own that day. You’ve got to go in because there are meetings and things going on. I think that’s a real positive thing I think.
I still think we need to treat people like grown-ups. They need to be able to work where’s right for them and an introvert might work in a very different way from an extrovert.
Rob: Absolutely. I think the working from home thing has opened up opportunities. I’ve always thought the world up until two years ago was built for extroverts. They had the advantage and then all of a sudden it’s opened up to a whole bunch of different people — neuro-divergent people or disabled people.
I was reading that the number of female creatives has gone up quite dramatically which is amazing. I think it opened up opportunities to get different voices in whereas before it was it felt very one of a kind in a sense.
Zoe: I completely agree. My brother is in a wheelchair — has been for quite a long time and he’s always worked for startup businesses. He’s a developer but the barriers he faced when we were in a world where you had to be there…
I mean he’s turned up for job interviews and there was a flight of stairs. He couldn’t possibly get up. And for him, remote working has been a real equalizer. So it’s a really hard balance to get.
My personal view is that those agencies and companies that have allowed people to work in a way that is best for them but also maximizes creativity together is the best solution.
The only thing I’ll say is that I don’t see many agencies 100% committing to what the future looks like. It’s a question I get asked all the time: “Is this going to be viable long term?” and I don’t think anyone knows that.
Rob: The other element then from a financial perspective that has obviously kicked in, in the last I guess year or six months a year is the cost of living increases.
Is that something that you’re seeing agencies react to in some way?
Zoe: I don’t see salaries massively increasing. I do think probably over the last six to twelve months salaries have increased quite a bit, but I think that was also because a year ago a lot of people were cutting salaries and they’re now just getting back to what they were on a while ago.
So, generally speaking, I’m not seeing a 10% increase in salaries on jobs. I don’t know if that will happen now. If anything I think some of the roles I’m seeing are starting to reduce and some of the salaries are starting to plateau a little bit.
I think everyone’s looking ahead to marketing budgets getting cut.
Rob: Well let’s move on just a little bit. I have been very, very lucky in my career to have worked in client-side marketing. I have also been lucky enough to transfer that agency-side and work agency-side as a planner.
How hard do you think it is for a client-side marketer to go agency-side and how do agencies see client-side marketers? Is it valued or are client-side marketers seen as lacking in some key areas or skills?
Zoe: It’s interesting. I was having this conversation with a Head of Planning in an agency last week actually. I was talking to her about a specific skill set she was looking for and having very few people who had it.
We talked a little bit about whether would she consider someone who’s come purely from a client-side background. Her experience is that she has met candidates like that before and she’s bought them in on freelance.
But what she’s found is that often they’ve been able to talk about what one should do in an agency and the role of a Planner but they’ve never done it. So when it came to actually doing the job, they could articulate everything about the process and they could actually comment and feedback as though they were the client in the room witnessing the process.
But they couldn’t physically do the job themselves. Now that’s just one point of view but it is an interesting one. In the same way when I talk to agency people and they want to go client-side I’m often explaining that there is a whole part of the role that they don’t see like stakeholder management, commercials, working with products — all of those things.
So it’s not that it’s impossible. But I think there needs to be what I like to call a bit of a value exchange between client-side and agency people in terms of what they’re looking for.
I think if you have a specialism in terms of Performance marketing, Social or CRM then I think it is much easier to go into a specialist part of an agency with that experience.
Or if you have a vertical sector experience — so if you have a real depth in financial services because you’ve worked at Lloyd’s or NatWest as a marketeer — I think it’s easier to cross over.
Rob: I’m a specialist but it took me about three months before I got completely comfortable agency side. The role was very similar — it was still coming up with campaigns, loyalty programs, etc but there were a few things that really threw me. Like “I don’t make the decision anymore, right?”.
In general, I’ve always thought I would love somebody who’s only ever been agency side and been in planning for 20 years to go and try and be a Marketing Director for a year and vice versa.
I do think there’s a real — I would say this because I’m biased — value in having that swapping of skills. For example, actually owning a project, trying to get it over the line, dealing with retail stores and all that sort of stuff. I’m a better marketer and now for having worked both sides.
Zoe: So it’s interesting because recently for some reason I’ve had a massive influx of client-side marketers talking to me about agency roles. Which I could hazard a guess might be because marketing budgets are being cut.
Or actually just the same way agency people, they want to try something new. They want more variety and they think agencies would give that.
I’m interested to know what your tip is for those people going into agencies because I think one of the ways I tried to describe it is they know the whole process. But really when it comes down to a strategist and an agency, it’s not just about an insight or a piece of data. It’s how you put a different spin on that and put a different lens on it and then use that to inspire creatives. And for me, that’s the bit that I think the client marketer maybe misses in their role.
Rob: Yeah I think that was the hardest thing for me. When I moved I was exceptionally lucky that my Creative Director was a chap called Scott Smith. I knew I was going to like him the moment I met him because his phone went off and his ringtone was ‘TNT’ by AC/DC. I thought: “Okay this guy’s pretty cool.”
And he was so kind and so patient with me. And so was my boss - a wonderful woman called Simone Blakers. Especially in terms of helping me understand how to write a creative proposition and brief.
I think don’t put too much pressure on yourself to be amazing from day one. And I think I would also say that of the agency. Give them a bit of time for that to come out because it is a big transition. Don’t expect them to be perfect from day one.
I know of people who have been great client-side and gone to agencies and they weren’t supported and it didn’t work out for them. Whereas they’ve gone somewhere else and they were supported and they’ve become a rock star.
So I think from an Agency perspective support them. From a client perspective be prepared to humble yourself a little bit and spend time with great planners. You’ve got time to learn agency-side. You don’t have time to do that client side because you’re constantly in trading meetings or whatever it might be. You’re expected to have expanded your horizons a little bit when you’re a Planner.
So I think, be kind to yourself. Put in the effort in terms of reading around the subject and don’t ever lose that client mentality. Don’t ever lose that.
Because it will stand you in good stead sometimes. We work with a retailer now who’s going through a lot of the same pains that I went through when I was Head of CRM at a retailer. And I’m able to kind of go: “Have you tried this or that?”. And it’s not just Marketing stuff. It’s political stuff or different things that have really helped.
Zoe: I think I think that’s good advice. When I see a CV and I’ve got someone who’s worked as a Brand Manager somewhere and has then worked at an agency, that person will have different perspectives and will bring a lot to the roles. I think agencies find that appealing.
I think it’s maybe hard if you’ve done one particular type of role for a long period of time to then suddenly make the change.
Rob: Talking about doing things for a long period of time, my penultimate question was around diversity.
Diversity is rightly a huge topic within agency land. Whether that is race or gender or you know a horrible word — “class”. Or neurodiversity and age.
What strategies have you seen that have actually worked in creating diversity because you must see those principles in play more than most?
Zoe: I think at a grassroots level and hiring Junior roles, most well-established agencies are doing a really good job there. And there are some great initiatives — things like the Brixton Finishing School.
At The Industry Club we have something called Marketing Debuts which is specifically to help young people, who maybe haven’t been to university, to break into advertising. Brooklyn Brothers have a night school. There are lots of really great things at the ground roots level.
There are also initiatives that some agencies use that I think open more doors. So blind CVs for example - taking off education, taking off sex, taking off anything that suggests what their background is and which I think is great as well.
But if they’re looking up at leadership in an agency and it’s all white men then it’s really hard because there aren’t the role models within the business.
I have quite a point of view on Ageism because I think everyone talks a good game on diversity but a piece of feedback we regularly get is: ‘They’re too experienced for the role”. Meaning they’re too old.
It’s a really really tricky one. I was talking to someone a few months ago about ageism and he said “How many retirement parties have you been to at an agency?”
I think there are organisations helping that and trying to improve that. Things like Creative Equals getting people back to work after being parents.
I think one of the other things as well that agencies, and any employer, needs to recognise is that if you bring people from different backgrounds into an organisation that they each require different levels of support.
Not everyone’s been to university. Not everybody has come from the same background and some people have some real challenges and struggles.
I think agencies need to have a real level of support for those people joining them that they might not need to have had previously.
The telling point will be whether improvements at a junior level maintain and work their way up.
Rob: So last question this is a bit of a fun one. I’m sure you’ve heard of Room 101. It is a place where people can try and put things they don’t like to be locked away in Purgatory forever.
So what would you like to put into the Everybody hates your brand Room 101?
Zoe: Tricky question! I was thinking about this and I would probably put in the feedback “Not the right cultural fit.” Because I suppose in some respects I know what it means but that actually is everything that agencies shouldn’t be about these days.
When I look at other industries — whether it’s Law firms, Finance companies, Manufacturing or Tech — there is not such a kind of importance about: “Are you the mini-me copy?”
I think advertising still has that and we need people who are young and have got new ideas, fresh ideas but we need everyone else as well.
Also, anyone who never sends me feedback!
I am a Senior Marketing Consultant at with nearly 20 years of experience across both the client and agency side. I have applied my knowledge across brands as diverse as Vodafone, McDonald’s, Volkswagen, Westpac, and GAME.
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