Text by Tim Stübane Horizont

The agency industry has long been concerned about the lack of skilled workers and young talent. There are many solutions, but implementation remains difficult. In his Talking Heads column, The Goodwins creative director Tim Stübane discusses what agencies are really lacking - and specifically goes beyond the problem of young talent.

What's our problem?

Agencies have a recruitment problem. We all know that by now. Especially since every industry seems to have this problem. But what is the reason for it in our case? And what can we do about it in particular? Recent studies show that job security and salary are the most important factors in choosing an employer. But they are pretty poor differentiators from other industries that pay more and whose business is not increasingly on a volatile project basis.

What used to be a guarantee for attracting employees a few years ago is no longer the case: awards, the supposed ultimate proof of creative excellence, are no longer the decisive factor for hiring a certain agency. On the contrary: the whole award circus seems rather out of date. Even the agency location has lost relevance since it is possible to work remotely from anywhere.

Is there anything at all for which young, creative people still like to go to an agency - crazily in a permanent position? What makes them put their heart and soul into a task, the client and its organisation? And the often denigrated Generation Z, who supposedly only looks after their free time - how can they be won over? Or is it lost for the agency industry?

There is a lack of profile and meaningfulness

A Green staff member recently told me that young people in particular are incredibly dedicated to their work. When they have to, they work relentlessly, sometimes until five in the morning. That surprised me! I thought we had left that behind. Do the goals and the collective work to achieve them trigger this high level of motivation?
Possibly. Because what is still relevant when choosing an employer is the corporate culture with positive interaction and the meaningfulness of the company. I just wonder where we have such agencies in Germany?

We all know about the Meaningful Brands study by Havas, which most recently said that 75 per cent of all brands would not be missed by people. How strong could the motivation be to work in agencies for one of these brands? So how would the study turn out if we were to do it only for the agency market? Probably even more stark. Because if you work for brands you wouldn't miss, you can only have a job you wouldn't miss, right?

This is definitely the big flow. In detail, of course, there can be exceptions and outliers. De facto, many applicants do not even make it into the agencies' relevant set. The industry is too unknown and unattractive, according to the common assessment of agency managers.

My ex-partner Simon Usifo, president of 72 and Sunny in Amsterdam, recently said that German agencies are too similar. He is right about that. A large part of the most important agencies are "network providers" or owner-managed "founder's name A / founder's name B". This similarity naturally multiplies the weaknesses.

A weakness of agencies is the lack of an attractive, differentiating corporate culture and a higher sense of purpose.

"But isn't the point of an agency to develop communication?" Yes, of course. But that is no longer enough from the employees' point of view. What is needed is a sense of purpose for the company that provides an answer to "Why do I actually do this every day?

If it makes sense, a lot of energy is rightly put into the work. But not when it comes to emotionally charging the umpteenth unhealthy product. Fewer and fewer people in the industry see any sense behind it. Interestingly enough, older people are more fed up with it than younger people, while younger people pay more attention to salary. All the more reason to keep older people in the industry longer with the right environment and a sense of purpose.

Together we are stronger

Our culture must be more attractive than that of other sectors. Working together, preferably towards a meaningful goal, is a key to this. My impression is that we are too weak in this area. And yet, as a creative sector, we have the potential to do more.

Our task: to develop a clear image of smart, contemporary, but also mutually diverse agencies. Cooler than big corporations, more solid than start-ups. Tim Stübane

I'm always happy to hear from more unusual representatives, e.g. Lure Media (related to content), Agency XY (related to production), Below 1 (co-op with online platform), Antoni (customised) or Oliver (in-house solution). Ultimately, they are interesting facets of the industry and make us more attractive.

As The Goodwins, we have an unfair advantage here, because supporting the good, the meaningful, is already our corporate idea and corresponds to our corporate culture. Accordingly, it is easier for us to get excited about the work and to find employees who do the same. But of course we also feel how thin the market of potential employees is.

We have to tackle this issue together. Together with the associations or as agency conglomerates. How about, for example, a training fund that brings young people into advertising? For this, we collect money together, invest it sustainably and use it year after year to invest in the next generation of our industry. You have to think about it more carefully, of course. But what are we actually waiting for?