The reported talent shortage is an indication of industry bias and failed billing models

There's more to the talent issue and a deeper problem below the headlines, writes Suits & Sneakers founder Anne Miles.

Mumbrella recently held an industry survey via 109 industry respondents that suggests there is an industry talent shortage. However, many of the anecdotal comments point to an issue that is far more complex than this data indicates on the surface.

The talent problem is symptomatic and is not a representation of an actual lack of talent who can do the work. Instead, it only indicates a lack of talent willing to work for that little salary, and to be expected to work beyond a normal working day to maximise capacity.  

The work can be done by more experienced talent, in less time and for a cheaper cost to the client, and there are plenty of talent available who can do so. We don’t have a talent shortage problem; rather, a billing model problem and talent exploitation problem. This causes not only a false impression of actual talent shortage, but also causes ageism, and potentially perpetuates an over-representation of women at this level, who are typically paid less than their male counterparts.  

All of this pushes senior talent out despite the fact they may be more skilled, faster workers, the outcome more proven, and could all be done for less cost to the client. Let’s face it, many good talent don’t want to be devalued like this either.   

If the agencies worked like they do for their own pitching projects by hiring senior talent on a project basis in small dedicated pods – without the layers of the complex production line through the agency – they could deliver better work, more volume and for less cost. It is ironic that a lot of the agencies hire this way when their own money is being spent, yet resort to the huge production lines regardless of the size of the client. They justify their costs by the existence of a time sheet which is supposed to validate the costs in a self-perpetuating cycle.  

Anecdotal responses in the article claim that the ad industry is unwilling to hire from avenues other than those with past agency experience, out-ruling client side or other areas of the industry and could also be limiting opportunity for emerging or more diverse talent too.  

While senior talent should not be working for less than they are worth, plenty of senior talent would match any salary in an agency if there was a career path forward, and if it meant they could cover their bills and keep surviving when times are tough. They’re just not given the opportunity with statements like ‘You’re too intimidating’, ‘You’re too experienced’, or ‘I couldn’t have someone more experienced than me working under me’. There are plenty of talent who would rather be working than not working, but they are typically not even given the opportunity to fill these roles creating a false outcome for this survey. With government subsidies available for over 50 workers, it is possible that the agencies can fill their roles, keep the overheads down and tap into more experienced talent with more efficiency and quality outcomes. But that doesn’t look good in the all-staff photo that is supposed to define the culture of the agency, mistakenly defined by the demographic that fills the seats and not some other more valuable criteria.  

Unless the big agencies change their service models and start to be rewarded for efficiencies, outcomes/output, and move away from a one-size-fits-all production pipeline, this exploitation of talent and the clients’ budgets will continue to be disguised as an industry talent problem.  

Anne Miles is founder of Suits & Sneakers.


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