The talent crunch is one of the main issues that comes up in my conversations with agency leaders these days. So many have seen great people leave, and are scrabbling to find good replacements.

If you think of your agency as a smooth-running motorway (make your own self-deprecating jokes here, maybe involving road rage, roadworks or roadkill), then there are on-ramps to bring talent into your agency, and off-ramps that talent takes to leave.

Yes, the talent crunch has come about partly because the off-ramps have been built or expanded: VC-funded tech startups and big tech companies are making eye-watering offers, in-house roles at brands feel like there'd be a bit less stress than the last few years in the agency world, and freelancing feels like it'd offer more control. So in the agency world, the off-ramps are now plentiful and effective.

But at least half the problem is that most agencies have been really bad at developing on-ramps.

It's too easy to fall into relying on poaching 'ready to bill' talent from other agencies, just sticking ads out to our networks saying: "We're recruiting a mid-weight ____ with 3+ years experience, including agency-side."

That's not enough any more. We need to actively invest in developing our on-ramps to find fresh talent from diverse sources, including:

  • Recruiting people right at the start of their careers and having fantastic, well-structured training and apprenticeship programmes to take them from 0-60% billable within a reasonable timeframe. I've seen agencies partner with local universities and colleges for this, and others work with apprenticeship programmes. Agencies should be the natural talent development camps for whole sectors.
  • Recruiting people from disadvantaged backgrounds (including abroad) who simply haven't had access to the opportunities before, but have the talent and commitment. You may need to invest in visas, or being able to contract and pay them internationally, as well as training. I saw a great example of this from Will Stogdale at BOOST design last week.
  • Recruiting people who want to return to work after career breaks, including parental leave, providing them with flexibility and investing in refreshing their professional development. In the UK, this site is a good place to advertise for this.
  • Nurturing professional communities of practice which bring you in contact with people who may never have thought of working agency-side until they got a chance to see what you do.
  • Keeping in contact with people who have worked for you in the past and may want to again in future — your alumni network.

So what ideas can you generate this week to start investing in your on-ramps?


This week:

  • The results of the latest Agency Senate survey will be published, looking at what top agency leaders are doing about retaining top talent, and handling client decision hesitancy. Convivio members at all levels get access to the results and analysis. It's a fantastic source of insight, so make sure you're signed up.
  • If you run an agency with between 30 and 75ish people, we're launching our Smarten-up programme — providing you with the framework and tools for this stage of growth, along with the ongoing support to actually implement them. Find out more and enrol now.

A newsletter to improve your agency's health

Research, expertise and insights so your leadership time has the maximum impact

We will never share your details with anyone else