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Bits & Pieces?

Bits & Pieces

Digital talent in advertising

A few days ago Edward Boches, one of my favorite people online, and offline for that matter, published a post about the new generation of digital natives and its choice not to go into advertising. Needless to say, recruiting and retaining young digital talent is crucial for anyone in this industry (click on the link because it leads to a great article), or at least for the ones who want to stay in this business. However, I don’t see it as a problem of recruitment as much as it is a problem of reputation and retaining.

First, digital natives have heard all the horror stories about interactive in advertising agencies: disrespect, lack of creative freedom, lack of exciting projects, small budgets, unreasonable deadlines, etc.

Second, young people aren’t stupid. We know that to start our own company we need experience and connections and working in advertising is one of the best paths to both. But what happens when after a few years in the advertising industry these young people get what they need: experience and connections? How do you create the best possible experience and environment to keep them in this industry? How do you change your reputation?

As a typical and opinionated Millinnial, I’ll share a few tips on the topic (did you really expect anything else?).

Before you start hiring any interactive professionals, make sure your agency is ready for it. Don’t just hire people and give them work only when clients come in and say they want a new shiny platform or a mobile app. Hire them because you realize the value they bring and sell it every time it makes sense (and it probably makes sense in about 95% of the cases).

Don’t isolate them. Don’t put them on a small island and engage with them only when you need them to implement something. Create a truly integrated environment and involve them in more projects. Everyone in the business is talking about being integrated. Don’t just talk about it. Live it!

Try to learn the language. At least the basics. They will be willing to teach you, but you have to put in some effort too.

Understand the process. Understand how it works and what it takes to make it work. You don’t have to know everything, but learn enough to set reasonable deadlines. Learn enough to explain to clients what is happening. Learn enough to make these professionals’ work easier so they can focus on actually creating.

Treat digital talent with respect. Sadly enough, because so many people don’t understand how they work and what they do (do they even work?), digital professionals aren’t treated with respect in advertising agencies, unless we are talking about a digital agency, and who would want to work in such an environment?

Provide them with opportunities to grow and learn. Almost everyone in this industry is somewhere because he/she had a formal or informal mentor that taught them many of the things they know and use today. But what happens to digital professionals in advertising who don’t have many people to learn from, especially in smaller agencies? How do they grow? Who are their mentors? Of course the Internet comes into play, but agencies can make the process easier by using their connections to find mentorship opportunities even outside the agency. Or mentor them in areas other than digital.

And give them time to play and explore.

Young digital professionals (creatives, developers and engineers) want to go into advertising and stay here because it is an exciting field that allows them to work on different projects every day. They go into advertising for the same reason as many creative minds: to create and receive recognition for their work. But how do you expect them to stay in this industry if it hasn’t become an embracive environment where they can be understood and treated with respect?

Photo credit: X-ray Delta One

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  • http://www.spaighttalk.com Sue Spaight

    Addy, Wow. I love your passion. As someone who hires digital and creative talent for an advertising agency, I think your perspective is great.

    There’s a “chicken and egg” problem that sometimes occurs in which you need to hire digital talent when you may be really only say 75% ready for it. I try to prepare people really well for what to expect, before they take the gig. Sometimes they may need to be a patient. It’s a two-way street that the chicken is trying to cross ; )

    The point about not isolating digital is critical, for talent of any age, not just the young talent, as are really, all of your points. Silos are generally bad for creativity, integration, happiness and all the finer things in life.

    The one thing that surprises me here is that you feel that young digital talent is generally not treated with respect. We advertising agencies need you, and we KNOW that we need you. Badly. Anyone who doesn’t respect young digital talent is in a separate category of “the clueless”. IMHO.

    • http://twitter.com/addy_dren Andreana Drencheva


      It is a two-way street. There are a lot of things digital creatives can do to make the process easier. One of them is being prepared what to expect from the environment, the team and the clients, but again without the help of the employer this is hard to achieve. Something else that can help digital talent is a bit of humility: realize that you are not a demigod. We might have some great skills, but there are a lot of things we are not capable of or simply don’t know.

      Before I wrote the post, I spoke to several young digital people who work or worked in ad agencies and respect came up in every single one of these conversations in one way or another. Some complained that senior executives don’t value their work and treat them as illegal immigrants. Other complained that, although senior leaders understand and respect them, the rest of the team doesn’t respect them.

      It is a painful process for all of us.

      P.S. I <3 your comments!

      • http://www.spaighttalk.com Sue Spaight

        Yes! I’m a big fan of humility in digital talent, all creative talent, and frankly, everyone on the planet that I really respect and enjoy working with. It is extremely important, no matter who you are and what you do, to recognize that you are not the only smart person in the room. It’s taken me four decades to learn that so you are ahead of the game ; )

        Your comment about being treated like illegal immigrants totally cracks me up, and brings the issue to life for me at the same time. I can totally see that.

        Agency leaders would do well to heed your advice.

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  • Allison

    Have you seen any success with educating digital, traditional, and agencies on topics of digital? Common language, understanding, etc? This is what I am currently working on and I am looking for others who have implemented similar models. Thanks!

    • http://twitter.com/addy_dren Andreana Drencheva

      Hi Allison,

      I think that all agencies are working on finding an agency model and also finding an internal scheme to educate everyone and fully integrate. Some have tried workshops, others have launched labs, yet others have opened interactive and mobile departments.

      E-mail me your questions at adrencheva (at)jigsawllc(dot)com. I’d love to help you with this.

  • http://edwardboches.com/ Edward Boches

    This is why I spend as much time listening to and learning from your generation, rather than from my generation. Some of your points are obvious, but you’ve expressed them clearly and in a way that rings of truth. We can only hope that agencies, marketing chiefs and employers everywhere who hope to get ahead listen to you. I, for one, am listening. Good stuff.

  • Steven Wold

    I hear all of you. Speaking as a senior level manager, I know very well the “chicken and the egg” reference. Not just in digital.

    And I also know how the pain of growth can infiltrate both sides. But the key word is “growth.” Digital may not be new, but the capabilities of bandwidth and of social media tools is. So while companies and agencies may not be “growing” in a traditional sense—meaning adding “more of the same,” they are expanding into new territories. That means growing pains. That creates the chicken and egg situation.

    I wonder if the swell of feeling from digital natives fleeing the advertising industry is partly endemic of the “new growth”—traditional agencies growing into territories that they were not “born into.”

    I know for me, I respect every person in this organization, or I wouldn’t want to sign their paycheck. I don’t care how old they are or what they do. But a younger person doing traditional work within a traditional environment may feel more respected than a younger person on the edge of new trends in the same environment.

    That said, I also don’t get all the hype about Millennials expecting things to get handed to them and having inflated expectations about their careers. Every young person has their fast-forward button pressed down all the time. And “wanting respect”—I don’t believe is new. I work with super talented young people I respect. And as a leader want to give them all the opportunities they want, the problem at times are two-fold: 1) the business at hand, that includes “everything” to do with accounts and creative—much of which is still refusing to go digital and 2) clients’ understanding of digital is lagging, most times, far behind agencies that go digital.

    The observations you compiled are awesome, I believe we as leaders should broaden them to ALL young people, whatever their role.

    But of course Addy, with special attention and chocolate for digital natives.

    • http://twitter.com/addy_dren Andreana Drencheva

      So Steven, does this mean that Jigsaw will pay for my chocolate addiction?

      • Steven Wold

        It appears from the foil wrappers we may have to have an intervention. Unless it keeps you in advertising to have chocolate as a perk. Then I’ll buy it.

        Interesting that you only comment on the chocolate part of my comment. Mmmm…

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=530886262 Andreana Addy Drencheva

          Haha, blame it on Millennials’ short attention span or on smart people’s selective attention. Your choice ;o)

          I don’t think you or anyone else at Jigsaw wants to take the risk to be around me without my daily doze of chocolate.

          Your point on growing pains is spot on, but as I told Sue, it is a two-way street and it requires efforts from everyone, even from people who supposedly have nothing to do with digital because they affect the environment and sometimes slow down the development/growth process. That is why educating everyone why digital is important and how it works are essential. That’s why I don’t believe in agency labs, the entire agency should be a lab, everyone should be trying new things and experimenting. Everyone should be pushing beyond his/her comfort level.

          I’ve written and said so much about Millennials and I’ve given up trying to convince people that we are not lazy. Actions speak much louder than words and if all those people bashing my generation look around, they’ll see that we actually want to work and we are ready to work 20h a day 7 days a week given the right environment. And we don’t just expect people to respect us because of our “blue ribbon for 12th place” mentality. We want to earn the respect, but it is hard to impress people who don’t understand what you are talking about and how it works.

          Thank you for still singing my paycheck :)

          P.S. I prefer Dove or Lindt chocolates. I think Jen, Anne and Jacque also like them, so it will benefit more people. *Hint, hint.*

          • Steven Wold

            I love how you are always right. Millennial thing? or smart people thing? Chocolate for everyone!

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=530886262 Andreana Addy Drencheva

            Wait, wait! You publicly said I am always right?!!? I need to take a screen grab of that comment and frame it.

            Millennial thing? Or smart people thing? A bit of both.

  • http://twitter.com/TalkingJed Jacquelyn Dahlgren

    SO many things to comment on I’m not sure how to focus! I want to pick up on one thing I think it critical. Let’s leave age out of it – no matter your age, if we are doing the “new” thing and seek to impress people (or gain their respect) while they don’t understand what we do or why we do it, I feel the “burden” lies on us to bridge the gap – to explain (again and again if we have to) that this is significant because X, that this is special because of X. And while it sometimes may seem a burden, it is such an important role of the new generations (OK, now I’m talking about age). It’s a hand out-stretched back with a sparkle in your eye to say, “Come with me!”

    And P.S. I’ll contribute to the chocolate fund.

    • http://twitter.com/addy_dren Andreana Drencheva


      Completely agree with you that age is not the only factor in this. But most of the digital talent is young (under 40 years old). So when someone in his/her mid 20s knows more about digital than someone who has been in the business for 30 years, it is hard to be taken seriously when the first thing people focus on is your age.

      However, I disagree with your statement that the burden lies on us digitals to educate and bridge the gap. As Tom and Sue said, it is a two-way street (or maybe I said that). You can educate only people who want to be educated. The burden is on all of us: digital, traditional creative, media, accounts, etc.

  • http://twitter.com/tmiesen Tom Miesen

    Nice work, Addy! I really like this article, and agree with it wholeheartedly. I think two of your points go together very well: “Don’t isolate them” and “provide them with opportunities to grow and learn.”

    This entire idea of “digital” is scary (and also exciting) for the older generation. It’s miles and miles away from traditional advertising. This gives our generation power, because we grew up using it. We know the ins and outs of how people interact with digital because we were raised on it. If they listen to us, ask for our opinions, and include us in creating digital advertising, they’ll be better off for it.

    Of course, we need to listen to them too. There are plenty of things that can only be learned through experience, and our generation would be wise to start listening to those who have it. We’re too young to completely understand advertising at a fundamental level, and we certainly don’t know how to play the politics that are inevitable in the industry like they do.

    It’s a mutually-beneficial relationship. It seems like we would all be better off if we crossed generational boundaries and learned from each other, but it doesn’t seem like it’s happening all that much. Some agencies, like Mullen, appear to “get it.” Many don’t. Judging from that Fast Company article, a lot of the “dinosaur agencies” are afraid of digital but are at least trying to understand it. That’s a start. The next thing they should do is put their money where their mouth is, dive in, and bring along some young digital talent as guides.

    Once again, great post!

    • http://twitter.com/addy_dren Andreana Drencheva

      Hi Tom,

      “It’s a mutually-beneficial relationship.” is spot on. I used to say that it is a symbiosis, but your phrase is much better. We need each other on so many different levels: young and energetic needs mature and experienced, digital needs traditional, experience needs storytelling and storybuilding.

      Thank you for the great comment!

  • TonyV

    Pretty ironic since he laid off some of his most talented digital creatives not too long ago. Funny how people come around.

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