Welcome to Planner Parley, the show where we come together under a flag of truce to talk about small agency strategy. On today’s show, guests talk about finding and nurturing fresh talent. They talk about reaching new talent, the secrets to identifying great candidates and how to motivate strategists from all generations. Join Beth Egan, associate professor of advertising at Syracuse University and Yusuf Chuku, global chief strategy officer at VMLY&R in London, as well as the chair of the 4A strategy committee. And, of course, John Roberts, chief strategy officer at Truth Collective in Rochester, New York, as they dip a toe in the talent pool. Pull up a chair and listen in.
Josh Coon: All right, so one of the topics we want to talk about with you today is very specifically around how to find and nurture and really bring talent forward in this industry, and bring people to life. And in industry that can be really competitive and can be hard to kind of break into, so finding new talent, bringing new talent in is a challenge for the industry. Is that something that you guys are seeing? And we’d love to hear a little bit about some of the struggles that you’ve seen, and Beth on your side, what it’s like to nurture some of this talent.
John Roberts: Josh, I think it’s pretty interesting for me because we found recently, at StratFest when we ran our second Planner Parley, that it’s a recurring theme and has been for the last couple of years with small agency strategists. But I think it’s true of everybody, that finding and nurturing talent is one of our biggest concerns.
Beth Ellen Egan: I would agree with that. I think, in terms of finding that initial young talent, the real challenge is identifying those people with the right skill sets. I happen to work at a university that has an advertising program, a very well known advertising program. But as I tell my students all the time, in the 25 years I worked in the business, if 10% of the people I hired had an advertising degree, that’s a lot. So you don’t need an advertising degree to get into advertising.
Beth Ellen Egan: But then that’s a challenge as a hiring manager to figure out, is that person going to bring the right combination of skills to the business? And on the Comms Planning side, one of the programs I used to love to recruit from was actually music majors. Because with a music major, they had this great combination of the quantitative skills in terms of reading the music and the qualitative and creative aspect of making music. But it’s really hard to take that bet on someone who hasn’t really done anything yet.
Yusuf Chuku: Yeah, it’s funny I was thinking about the answer to this question, because I guess there’s two answers. Is it a challenge to find talent? Yes. Is it the fault of talent? No. It’s our fault as agencies, isn’t it? If we are unwilling to … Isn’t it? There are lots of bright, smart, go-getting people out there. But if we are unwilling to put in the effort to train them and turn them into great candidates, then we will suffer a shortage of great candidates. And so, the challenge we always talk about is, that’s so different experience levels, but if you’re unwilling to do your bit to train and nurture that talent, there’ll always be a death of talent.
John Roberts: So, Yusuf, just building on that, I think it’s really fascinating for me when I think about this from a small agency perspective because I think, quite often, what I’ve experienced in small agencies is, there’s an expectation to be up and running from day one, which is actually completely contradictory to what you’re saying. And I agree with what you’re saying about, if we’re purely looking for someone that is fully formed and ready to go from day one, then we’re always going to have a little shortage in genuine talent. Does that make sense?
Yusuf Chuku: Yeah, no, exactly it.
John Roberts: So when I think about your perspective, because we were chatting about this before StratFest, of your experience both being in a small as a small agency can be in terms of freelance for yourself, or now having a multitude of planners at hand. Is the principle still the same?
Yusuf Chuku: Yeah. It’s a case of everyone in the industry doing their bit. So an agency of VMLY&R scale, we’re duty-bound to train a certain number of fresh candidates. If I was sat at a much lower place … Quite interesting, I was consulting at a very small entertainment consultancy before I started here. And even there, I hired a strategist with no experience. I could only bring in one because it just didn’t have the capacity to look after more. But that was still, I had to do my part. I certainly stole him and brought him here, but even the size we were, we had to do our bit.
Josh Coon: So I want to come back to, I love what Beth was talking about, jumping into where to find them, music majors was actually something I had never even thought of. What do you look for when we’re thinking about, and this is obviously leading because this is thinking about relatively inexperienced talent. But what else do you look for when you think about talent?
Beth Ellen Egan: Yeah, I think one of the key elements, and I’ve heard this from most people so this is nothing new, but that idea of curiosity. And that’s a difficult skill to identify on a resume or even in an interview. When I was interviewing entry level candidates, I would often ask them why they chose the university they chose to attend. Because that was really the first decision they ever had to make. Big decision they ever had to make in their life. And it gave me an insight into their decision making skills. I would find that very helpful.
Beth Ellen Egan: The other thing, I used to ask them, “What was the last book you read?” A millennial reading a book today is so few and far between. I’ve shifted that to, “What have you read recently that inspired you?” And I think a lot of entry level folks cannot answer that question. And for me that’s a huge red flag, that you’re not constantly out there looking to understand something new or be inspired by something. For me that was the best way to identify the skill around curiosity.
Yusuf Chuku: I totally agree on the curiosity front, just an interest in stuff. It’s just so important and it’s vital at the junior levels, and it continues throughout your career.
Beth Ellen Egan: An interest in anything. And I try to encourage my students, “Find something to read that nobody else is reading.” I’m an avid subscriber to Monocle. It’s very popular outside the United States-
Yusuf Chuku: Yes.
Beth Ellen Egan: … but most people in the United States … So find something that everybody else isn’t reading and that … The definition of creativity is bringing together two previously known things in a new way. And if you don’t have different things that you know, then you’re solving the same problem everybody else is.
Yusuf Chuku: That’s exactly it. I’m a big fan of people just … And the reality of what we do is, everything that we experience, that we read, that we consume, is a value in our day jobs. And so, having people being active participants in life, is not really important. But if you can, if you embrace new things and you experience new things, you’ll bring all of that to your job. We also have to get them a little bit of time to actually have a life. But that’s a whole other thing. The other thing I’m also looking for is empathy. We all have it, but some of us are just better at deploying it. And so I’m always keen to see if candidates naturally engage their empathetic side when it comes to it.
Beth Ellen Egan: That was the other word I had written down here.
Yusuf Chuku: [inaudible 00:08:42].
Josh Coon: All right, cool. So what cheats do you have on that Yusuf when you’re looking at candidates for them to be able to display some form of empathy?
Yusuf Chuku: Oh you see I can’t tell you. I’ll tell you why, because I actually have a standard set of questions, which I … Well, actually, I have three questions I ask everyone, the rest of the university use freeform. But I have three questions I ask everyone at every level, and I’ve been asking the same three questions for maybe about eight or nine years. And so, what’s nice is, I’ve started to hear a whole host of answers.
Josh Coon: Yeah.
Yusuf Chuku: I’ve actually hired people and then seen how they perform off the back of answering those questions. And so, now I have in my head this quite extensive longitudinal study of answering this question. But one of the questions is around getting them to do a little bit of strategy on the spot. And so, I’m looking at solutions and all that stuff but at the same time it’s a great chance to see if they can naturally empathize with the situation. I just can’t tell you what the question is about otherwise it’d just give a whole lot of people a chance to actually practice.
Josh Coon: Right. It’s interesting because we talk a lot about strategy as a creative discipline. And the answers you’ve all have given have … It’s not like you’re saying, “Well, we need to know how they’re going to analyze this data or this Simmons research or this …” It’s very much these are softer, more intuitive, more creative, artistic questions and things that you’re looking for from your candidates, which I think is probably going to be surprising to some of the people listening. John, how about you?
John Roberts: Honestly, I think the guys got great answers. And it’s interesting, Beth, you’re talking about curiosity because, of course, we all know that’s fundamental when you think about the role of strategy. I found that there’s also a way to poke at, not just curious, but what have you done about it? So not just to go and look or to be investigate, but what have you done about it? And sometimes that comes back to, Beth, I think you were talking about passion, is what’s a passion that you have and then what do you do about it?
John Roberts: What’s really interesting to me, to get the balance between the genuine enthusiasm and discovery and learning that we all want, but also the, you’ve got to turn into an agency, you’ve got to turn it into something.
Beth Ellen Egan: I like that a lot. And we talk to our students a lot when they’re putting their resumes together, about making sure that their resumes aren’t about just what they’ve done, but what they’ve accomplished. But I like that framing around, what have you done about it? I think that gets a little bit deeper, especially for an entry level person who, let’s be honest, even the greatest intern isn’t making that big of an impact on the company. So I really like that framing.
Josh Coon: Beth, one of the things you brought up is, millennials and reading a book as an example, but question for everybody is, are you seeing changes in what’s motivating these different generations from Gen Z to millennials to beyond, as they come into the industry? Are they motivated by the same things? Is the same culture working for people? Talk a little bit about this, the new generations that are coming into the workforce.
Yusuf Chuku: So, when I joined the industry, a long time ago, particularly London advertising was one of the most highly desired jobs around, I think of my cohort. I was one of maybe two people that weren’t from Oxford or Cambridge, so the agency I joined had their pick of graduates. And those that didn’t get into the agency, often found a job on the client side. And so, it was different to now, where I think we have to fight a lot harder to be noticed amongst all the other options that are out there. But probably biggest of all, and the thing that, I guess, have to work our way of making it, is to those that would actually quite happily just go off and do their own thing.
Yusuf Chuku: There are a whole load of people that are like, “I don’t need to work for you. I don’t need to work for anyone. I can go actually build something myself.” And the irony is, those are the people that you actually often want the most. They’re the ones that were self-starters that will make stuff happen, and it’s that energy and push, which actually most agencies need. And so, how you make an environment that is right for those with an entrepreneurial spirit is a huge challenge.
Josh Coon: And also, Yusuf, I’m smiling, because it’s also a real challenge for you as a leader, right? Because you’re going to have to play … Actually funny enough comes back to that notion about empathy that you were talking about earlier. You have to have different empathic styles for the different drivers for the talent. So that entrepreneurial self-starter that we’re seeing more and more of, they want less of you in a way. So you have to find a way to be a good coach to them. Whereas there other really talented people, and this isn’t an age thing at all, but there are other really talented people that actually want more direction and affirmation along the way. Do you find that?
Yusuf Chuku: Yes. Yes, absolutely. And in part of that, and I guess there’s another challenge is, ensuring that we create an environment that is welcoming to all types. So whether you’re introverted, extroverted, entrepreneurial or not, there should be room for you. And so, in days gone past me, we created recruitment processes that really weeded out people that weren’t exactly like the people at the agency. And so, that the biggest challenge is also how do you broaden that funnel? But at the same time, it still needs to filter out or allow people to surface they are absolutely right. But interestingly, there are more than one time.
Beth Ellen Egan: I heard something the other day along those lines that I thought was really interesting. This idea that the baby boomers were the generation of, “Work hard and you’ll be successful.” Gen X, we were more the generation of, “We’ll figure it out.” We were the latchkey kids, if you will, so, we’ll just get it and figure it out. And the challenge we’ve had in bringing these millennials in is, they were the generation of, “Tell me what to do.”
Beth Ellen Egan: They were the ones that were helicopter parented. So if I’m of the ilk of, “Just give me a challenge and I’ll figure it out,” and I’ve got somebody who wants to be told every step of the way, that becomes very frustrating. And I think what I’m seeing from whatever we’re calling this next generation, they’re more of … To your point Yusuf, “I’m going to figure it out for myself. I don’t need this company. I don’t need particularly this person with experience.” Almost a do-it-yourself mentality.
John Roberts: That sounds like a much better base for planning, or strategists to have talent coming in saying, “You know what? I got this, I’m not sure what I’m doing, but I’m going to figure it out.”
Josh Coon: Yeah. And some of it must be the barrier to entry for so many things has come down. There’s been so much democratization of what people can make, right from the time they’re interacting with YouTube or Kickstarter or so many different ways where, the gatekeepers that normally you would have to go through to get anywhere, are gone. So, people are just making stuff and creating stuff almost as soon as they can. And it seems like that is having a pretty dramatic impact on this younger generation.
Josh Coon: I want to come back to the top line notion of finding and nurturing talent and give you both an opportunity. Yusuf, tell us a little bit about what the forays can do to help nurture young talent and bring them into the industry.
Yusuf Chuku: What we’re really focused on currently is, how do we play more of a role in training and skills development. If agencies need to take on more of that developing of talent, there is a role for the forays in sharing some of that burden. I think one of the things we’re particularly interested in, or trying to figure out is that, at the moment, we have set up a few hurdles for people. Particularly as it comes to postgraduate degrees and various other things, which at the same time create yet another barrier for people to get in. And so, there’s some work to be done in terms of how do you remove those barriers but ensure that people are still getting the training and development they need to find their first job in the industry?
Josh Coon: And Yusuf, just thinking about it from your perspective with your hat of leading the forays, strategy committee as well, that talent support isn’t just about younger incoming talent, is it?
Yusuf Chuku: No, it isn’t.
Josh Coon: It exists at any level as well.
Yusuf Chuku: Exactly.
Josh Coon: It’s a good reminder to me.
Yusuf Chuku: If you replay the tapes, you’ll find I always try and use the word fresh talent. A new term to take away. Fresh does not mean that they are particularly young, it is they are just fresh to the industry and therefore we … Yeah. We have to ensure that we are pulling from everywhere.
Josh Coon: Beth, how about you from the higher education standpoint?
Beth Ellen Egan: I’m going to go back or continue this thread in terms of the soft skills. I mean, certainly, at a university, the hard skills come with the territory and we certainly address those. But I think the most important things that I focus on, are emotional intelligence, number one. One thing I am seeing, and sorry to say this Yusuf, so get ready, but one thing I am starting to see more and more is, students coming in, honestly unprepared emotionally to deal with the stress, to deal with the workload.
Beth Ellen Egan: And I don’t know if that’s because their parents were doing it for them up until now, fighting their battles for them. I’m not really sure what the impetus of this is, but really needing to coach them on, “It’s going to be okay, take a deep breath.” And we just spent, I want to say $6 million and I’m probably totally overstating it, so someone at Syracuse University will come yell at me. But on redeveloping our gym facility to put in meditation rooms and yoga rooms and dog therapy and all sorts of things. So, teaching them and focusing on the emotional intelligence.
Beth Ellen Egan: Then secondly, I would say the critical thinking skills. Again, they’re very accustomed to taking the test and doing well on the test, but not so good at having to formulate their own opinions and their own strategies. And then the last piece I would say, I’m calling them life skills, but again, for Yusuf, this making sure that when they do step foot in your agency, they can put their phones away during a meeting and focus. That, they can write with a pen and paper. Very basic things that, you’re going into a professional field and there’s expectations and you better learn them here because the agencies don’t have the time or the patience to teach them.
John Roberts: Hey Beth, one of the points that I thought was really interesting that came out from the Parley we ran at StratFest was, there was a higher educator there in the room as well for the workshop. Let me ask you, from your perspective, do, and I’m biased here because I’m thinking about this from a small agency, in particular, perspective. Do small agencies do enough to connect with people like you who can influence the young burgeoning talent at places like Newhouse? So about where they could go? Which companies they could join? What they should look for? Could you get more help from small agencies? And obviously, the benefit to a small agency of finding that talent quickly.
Beth Ellen Egan: We absolutely could get more help from the small agencies. And I think the students would be very receptive to that. Especially, given where I’m situated and given where myself and my colleagues came from, we tend to be a very New York City centric program. And I have this conversation with students all the time that, “Look, I’m from New York City, I think it’s the greatest city in the world. I miss being there every single day. But if you think it’s dirty and loud and crowded, it is. And if you don’t like that, then certainly don’t go there, because that’s going to be your life every single day.”
Beth Ellen Egan: I tend to gain energy from that. So, I would love to have other options to say to my students, “There’s great agencies in Buffalo or Rochester or where have you.”
John Roberts: There’s one in Rochester, just to be really bad.
Beth Ellen Egan: That’s what I meant. That’s what I meant.
John Roberts: But it’s interesting for me-
Beth Ellen Egan: But I think that’s the beauty of the advertising business is … And I think it always has been, you can do it from anywhere and there’s great work being done everywhere.
John Roberts: I’ve found, most recently, because we’ve actually got a live client brief being worked on by one of your other classes at Newhouse. And the client and we, are all getting really energized by what the students are doing. Granted it’s not going to be 100% right, that’s not what we’re looking for. But it gives us that fresh perspective as well as a little bit more depth of learning and a different view, which has been really, really useful.
Beth Ellen Egan: Yeah, it’s amazing some of the random ideas they come up with.
Josh Coon: I’m curious just after the conversation about, some of the things that you’re not seeing from this younger generation. Is there anything really interesting that you are seeing that you’re like, “This is going to be something that’s going to help them succeed in this industry, that we can harness, that we can drive?” Maybe a little ray of light in terms of, where you’re seeing, something maybe new that this generation has that previous ones haven’t or something the agency people could look to harness and help grow?
Beth Ellen Egan: I think they do have a bit more chutzpah, if you will. And I think that’s a little bit different than confidence. It’s this idea, again, I go back to this feeling that they feel like we’ve screwed this all up, so they couldn’t do any worse than we’ve already done. So, this willingness to dive in and just figure it out.
Yusuf Chuku: Probably the one thing that I’ve just seen more of, and it’s not that it didn’t exist, but the idea of just being multifaceted. Ambidextrous people used to be like, “Oh.” It was a thing that made them stand out and it just feels like more and more of a common trait that I’m seeing, a new generation that are, “I’m happy to wear a strategist hat, but at the same time I could pick up a camera, I can go film something, edit it.” They’re happy to wear, or comfortable wearing different hats and making stuff happen. And all of that goes back to just this desire to just get it done and make it. So, less of like, “This is my swim lane,” as much as of like, “Now I know we need to get this done.”
Yusuf Chuku: Also, just slightly better at working in teams. And I’ve seen this with lots of fresh creative teams who … Before we used to, like “This is my idea. I’m going to work a little on my own until I present it to creative director.” Suddenly, you’ll see five or six creatives, they’ve all been working in a Google Doc from the beginning. And it’s like, “These are our ideas.” Which is what we’ve always should’ve been like. But it’s nice to see that energy coming from new recruits.
Josh Coon: I wonder whether that’s how they’ve grown up, but also there’s … To me, there’s this healthy disregard for hierarchy or ancient ways of doing things. Do you know what I mean? In terms of healthy disregard, in terms of, “So I’m a strategist but I can also shoot, I can take pictures.” Or, “I’m a creative, but I’m quite happy to share the idea because I don’t care about the linearity and the hierarchy, the older folk and we grew up in an agency.”
Yusuf Chuku: I mean, there’s definitely structural stuff that’s made that, I mean when I was … I couldn’t afford time in a dark room and I’d certainly couldn’t afford an SLR. So it was lots of like, “I couldn’t record anything on this video camera because the tape was too expensive.” So there’s definitely stuff that’s just enabled, just more of that. So if the desire’s there, there’s less to stop you learning it and doing it. So I think that certainly has helped. But then the desire to learn things, it’s great. They just like, the sense of, “I’ve got to learn this new skill,” is less of a foreign concept. Where they didn’t feel the need to specialize early.
Josh Coon: All right. So, I’m thinking a little bit about you guys now, looking after all this stuff we’ve talked about. If you could go back to your 23-year-old self and give him some advice, what would you say to a young 23-year-old Beth, just getting into all this stuff? We’ll start with you and then pass it around. What advice would you give young people now?
Beth Ellen Egan: Yeah. I think there’s two things that if I went back, I would do a little bit differently. One of those is, be patient. And we see that a lot in our students who are less than a year into the job, coming in and coming back, and saying, “Oh, it’s not what I thought it was going to be, I got to get out of there.” We used to joke on the AT&T business. The great thing about the account was, when things were going bad, we knew they were going to change. The problem was when they were going good, we knew they were not going to change. And I think I lacked some of that patience at points in my career, where I just left things too quickly.
Beth Ellen Egan: And then the other thing I would say is be focused. And what I mean by that is, really understand where you want your career to go. And what types of jobs or projects or clients are going to get you there. And I think that’s especially important for women in the business, because we tend to be willing to take on whatever we’re asked to do. “This account is … We really need you here. This is really important for the agency”. “Okay, I’ll do that. And then in the future this is what I want to do next.”
Beth Ellen Egan: And, when I think back on the mentors I had, both male and female, they were the ones who were best at shutting out the noise. And just understanding what was going to work towards their vision of their own future and get them to their ultimate goal. So be patient, be focused.
Yusuf Chuku: I was chuckling to myself when you were asking this question. There are so many things I wish I had done. Most of them are just like, little decisions around, “Yes, you should follow that guy to that startup. It will be successful.” Or, “Do take that job at Google, that stock would be worth a fortune now.” But anyway, this life is messed up, I have no regrets. But I think the bit that I didn’t realize till later in my career, and it’s just a broader thing that I just tell anyone and everyone irrespective of their industry, was I sat in a talk, and I’ve forgotten who the woman was, but it was late for me, but it was a realization.
Yusuf Chuku: She was like, “Look, everyone tells you to get a mentor, it’s great. But you need an advocate. Every decision about your career is made when you’re not in the room. And so, you need people in the room speaking on your behalf.” And I was like, “It’s so obvious and I’d never thought about it.” And I was like, “Of course, advocates. Yes.” So I always tell people to get one of those.
Beth Ellen Egan: Yes, absolutely.
Yusuf Chuku: Then the other thing is just try advice around … But it’s also true. Like people always do like, “Do what you love.” But interestingly, when you finally get your start in this industry, you’ll be doing lots of tasks you hate and there’ll be a few tasks you go like, “I already like this task.” And the reality is, any one of those tasks that you actually enjoy, you can specialize, if you like, and really focus on that and get really good at that.
Yusuf Chuku: And bizarrely, people pay you more, the better you are at something. And so, you might as well be good at something you love doing. And so, I’m always like, “Once you’re in an agency, find the things that you like. Don’t overthink it and just focus on it and get a lot better at it. That’d be really helpful.” And then the other thing is, just people developing their own style. I think I tried for a long time, but the younger me tried to conform to how I thought people thought I should be.
Yusuf Chuku: And then over time, I started to realize, “Oh, when I just be me, people like that. Because it’s me, and it’s more interesting than not being me.” And so, embracing your own style and doing it in the way that’s true to you, is probably the best path.
John Roberts: Oh, Yusuf that’s so true. I’m smiling because it took me a long, long time to realize. I was always trying to be the person I thought the rest of them wanted me to be, which wasn’t necessarily me.
Yusuf Chuku: Yes. Yes.
John Roberts: It’s really hard work. It’s exhausting and ultimately really unfulfilling. So, my 23-year-old self, I was actually just starting to get into the business as an account guy. And if I look back now, I think the two learners for me were, “You’re not really an account guy, you’re more of a planner.” But my thought would be … What got me would be, building on that love that Yusuf talked about. But whatever you do, really care about what you’re doing. Whether it’s the most menial task ever or the biggest junk ever, or you’re taking a huge risk, really care about it, because it will come through.
John Roberts: It will both make the work better, you put your heart into it and so, it becomes more enjoyable. And people notice. People really notice when a talent around them, care about what they’re doing.
Yusuf Chuku: Oh, 100% agree. Oh, sorry, you just reminded me then, of one of the things I look for in a more senior talent, is a love for the craft. You can tell people they’re just really into this and care about it and it’s so important to develop that.
Josh Coon: So actually, can we just expand on that, because I think we’ve been talking a lot about finding and nurturing talent, and our bias of course is always towards the younger talent. But Yusuf talked about fresh talent earlier. What more do you look for Yusuf, when you think about fresh talent, which isn’t necessarily entry level or coming into the industry for the first couple of years in?
Yusuf Chuku: Yeah, there’s a level of nerdiness that I like. I like it when people are into stuff. It helps if they’re into what we do, but also just being into stuff. Like, you care enough or passionate about something to want to get better at it. There is actually another piece actually around craft, which is, I also look for people to know how to get better at stuff. So, as much as you can have a healthy disregard for how things have been done in the past, you at the same time need to understand that you can learn from how things have been done in the past and actually do it better, rather than just dismiss it out of hand. And so, people who are able to demonstrate that, are in good position to be hired.
Josh Coon: I’m also wondering, do they need to be a great champion of the craft? And again, I’m thinking with my small agency hat on, I find that there’s a constant need to really affirm the role and the value that strategy can bring. Not just in the focus of that particular client need. Does that make sense?
Yusuf Chuku: Yes. Yes. Absolutely. I have this thing when I’m assessing Strats, I was explaining to them early on, which is, “I’m less concerned about what you are producing. I don’t actually need to see your briefs or your strategy documents or anything like that. What I’m concerned about is that, people want you in the room and want your presence.” And in particular, there are two constituents. If creators want you around, or any maker wants you around, then ultimately it means that you are providing a level of clarity around the task. And you are providing a level of stimulus to the process that they find useful.
Yusuf Chuku: And secondly, if clients want you around or just importantly clients want you round, it means that you have demonstrated that you understand their business. And you understand the role that our company plays in building their business and what we make contributes to building their business. And so, they want you in the room. If those things are happening, then you are being a champion of strategy and it doesn’t really matter what you are producing. If that’s happening then whatever you’re producing is useful.
Josh Coon: Beth, that sounds like a lot of this ties back to the soft skills that you were referring to earlier for the students and the young people. Even now, later in their career, those things are still critical for moving through the industry.
Beth Ellen Egan: Yeah. And that’s one of the biggest struggles I have and part of it is endemic to our program, which I won’t get into here. But what I tell the students constantly is, “There’s not a job in advertising that’s not strategic. And the jobs with a strategy title are harder to get.” So to Yusuf’s point, be the person they want at the table. We were very successful … My teams and I were very successful at that throughout my career in terms of, yes, I was the media person at the table, but if I understood their business, and could contribute on a broader level, then there were many times where we became the lead go-to in the agency teams.
Beth Ellen Egan: Simply because we didn’t just sit back and throw a flow chart on the wall during the last three minutes of the meeting. Being with them throughout the entire process and thinking about how it works from a 360 degree point of view. And the people who, not only can do that, but have the confidence to make that their role, are the ones I think succeed in any part of the advertising business. And probably at a small agency, it’s even more necessary to do that.
Josh Coon: So speaking of small agency, a perfect segue, what about actually finding the talent? What barriers are there for a small agency to attract the talent? It could be market, could be size of agency, but I want to get thoughts from all of you starting with John.
John Roberts: It’s definitely a combination of things I’ve learned both for us. And being in a second, let’s call it second tier city, Rochester, as much I love it, just doesn’t have a scale of many strategists roles within Rochester. And I heard this as well when I’m talking to other small agency strategists, StratFest and onwards from other places that, location matters.
John Roberts: Part of that I think is the risk of bringing talent to a small agency in a smaller city, constraints the opportunities for them of, “What if it doesn’t work out?” Which is a terrible thing to think about, right? Just the negative aspect. But it’s just also is a reality of shipping and moving to a place where you may not be from, you doubling down on that. So the flip side for us is, we found, we spend an inordinate amount of time making sure people really understand the city and the culture they’re moving to.
John Roberts: So, when we bring people in, we definitely, we want them in for a weekend, we tour around with them. We let them look at places, we pair them up with people who have similar interests, for example. So they can get a little feel for what would it be like if they lived in not just work here. But finding the talent to actually think about moving to Rochester or coming to us is definitely hard work. Yusuf, in the big bad city with thousands of planners within VMLY&R, tell me you’ve got it all sorted.
Yusuf Chuku: No, no. It’s interesting. Why not? What’s interesting for us is we are both, we have a whole load of offices. And so, we have offices in big cities and then, but we also have offices in much smaller cities. And interesting that the task of attracting people is just the same. That there’s still the question, “If it doesn’t work out here, you are still the only player in town.” And so, irrespective of the fact that we are part of a big agency, you’re still stuck in that town without a job to go to. So, it’s interesting that the location issue is irrespective of size.
Yusuf Chuku: But, there is a draw that exists around the breadth of opportunity. And so, I’m always, when I’m sat here, I lean into the fact that actually, if you come here as a strategist, there genuinely isn’t any reason to leave. It’s like, what’s the adage? If you’re tired of London, you’re tired of life. It’s the same though, because of the range of disciplines and clients and locations and everything else, there’s no real reason to leave.
Yusuf Chuku: And so, that you’re taking less of a risk if you don’t like the exact role. And if you are good we will find you another one. There’s plenty of scope. So that does work in our favor. I’ll tell you what though, what I miss from when I was recruiting at smaller places, was, I was able to guarantee them a voice. They would have access to the most senior people in the agency. They would be vital to the business that they’re on, just because, you have to be.
Yusuf Chuku: There is no space for people that aren’t contributing and adding value. So there was an exposure that came with the role and there wasn’t an opportunity to really take on as much as you wanted. That gets, if I’m being very, very honest, that gets, that’s harder to do on certain accounts that we might have a large shot.
John Roberts: Beth, how about you?
Beth Ellen Egan: Well, I think some of the things that we were talking about before in terms of the characteristics of the younger kids coming up now, actually board very well for this particular challenge. Because, they are more focused on their lifestyle versus their life goals, if you will. They want to be in control of how they live their lives and they’re willing to do that. So, I think you will see some more opportunity with folks who decided, “No, I want to have that nice house and the yard at the outset. I don’t want to live in the 500 square foot apartment with three of my closest friends in New York City. Because somebody told me that’s where I needed to start my career.”
Beth Ellen Egan: We had one of our most talented grad students a couple of years ago, went and started at an agency in Tennessee, because that’s where she wanted to live. And that’s some of the advice we give the students too is, “If you know what you want to do, be willing to go anywhere. But if you know where you want to be, be willing to do anything.” And I’m seeing a lot more of the young talent just saying, “This is where I want to be and I’ll find my way when I get there.” I think that’s … I’m hopeful for small agencies.
John Roberts: Love it. And we’ve heard loud and clear from other strategists within other Parleys that reality, like you talk about Yusuf, there’s nowhere to hide, which is a good thing and a bad thing, right? But the really good thing is that, there’s an expectation that you really will make a difference. Both within the work you’re doing with your team and you do have contact with all levels of people within the agency so your voice can be heard.
Josh Coon: And what role does agency culture play in this motivation for young talent? And Yusuf, you talked a little bit about the size and scale and how people may not have access or their voice may not be heard in the same way as a small agency. But, just real quick, does agency culture motivate people? Does that change this equation a little bit?
Yusuf Chuku: Yeah. I think absolutely. One of the things we focus on, and it’s interesting, because it’s not even a … I was going to say one of the things we focused on VMLY&R, but we don’t actually have to focus on it as much as the fact that it happens. Like you can’t … Culture doesn’t come from someone laying out the PowerPoint slide, it comes from everyone. And what we’ve been able to do is, create an environment where everyone feels that they can contribute to the culture and push it where they want it to go.
Yusuf Chuku: So, there’s less of a management of mandated fun on Thursday afternoons. To actually now, “We’ve decided to do this, we’ve got support of the agency, we’re going to make it happen.” And so, you create an agency where people want to be. Because people feel like they have a say in where it’s going, how it works and what it does. And so, it’s been interesting that we’ve been able to create that, an agency that’s fairly large. It just doesn’t … One of the best things I hear is, “Look, it’s funny, I never feel like I’m at a large agency. It feels really homely. I feel like I could speak to anyone and everyone’s approachable.”
Josh Coon: Of course. Beth, does this tie back to what you were saying earlier about, that the choices that you’re finding the students are making as they graduate, that they’re looking for the right place, not the right job?
Beth Ellen Egan: Absolutely. And look, everyone understands that advertising is a tough profession. And you’re not going to walk into a nine to five job, and especially at the entry level, it’s going to consume a large part of your life. I think that’s why they’re even more focused on, “Okay, I’m willing to put that hard work in, but I want to do that in a place that I know I’ll have fun at. And that when I walk out the door in the evening, I’m somewhere where I want to be.”
Josh Coon: That’s perfect. Well, that’s all the questions that we have. This has been a really wonderful discussion. Thank you so much for joining us on Planner Parley today. We really appreciate it.
Yusuf Chuku: Thank you.
Beth Ellen Egan: Thank you.
Speaker 1: Planner Parley, a Truth Collective Production.