How Canadian Agencies Hire In 2014

June 13, 2014 Jonathan Paul


Agencies are looking far and wide for their next hire. With both technical skills and creative talent needed, finding and recruiting the right candidate is not a quick or easy process.

Fresh, relevant talent is always an asset, helping to woo clients and advance the culture of the agency.

“There’s a talent shortage of skilled workers, especially those with strong integrated advertising experience or strong digital and oftentimes technical expertise,” says Trina Boos, President of Boost Agents, a specialist recruitment provider to the creative, marketing, and communications industries.

Technical skills needed

To help address the need for people with technical skill sets (analyzing big data for example), agencies are increasingly turning to those with less conventional backgrounds, such as computer science.

“When it’s technical-based, absolutely, we’re looking at programs like computer science and PMI project management certification, etcetera, and that’s first and foremost what we try to pull in here, the technical piece,” says Matt Cammaert, President of Cheil Canada.

He adds that this is particularly true at more junior levels, where agencies are afforded the opportunity to think expertise first, and consider agency experience afterward. At the senior level, Cammaert says Cheil looks for candidates that have a fine mix of technical know-how, agency experience and, of course, leadership qualities.

“Effective use of social media is a very strong recruitment strategy.”

Boos has seen agencies ultimately hire people with experience in areas like industrial design or architecture to fill creative and digital roles. Adding technical know-how is certainly important, but for an industry that lives on the cusp of creativity, so is injecting fresh thinking into client work.

Finding the talent

Of course, you have to find these skilled, creative workers before you can hire them.

At Cheil Canada, the process starts by mining the agency’s internal network, a practice that’s commonplace in many agencies, often accompanied by monetary recruitment incentives. Social media is also a popular recruitment tool with LinkedIn, in particular, serving as an effective prospecting platform.

“Effective use of social media is a very strong recruitment strategy,” says Boos. “Agencies are seeking individuals who are not only interested in the concept of engagement at all levels, but who also can demonstrate an understanding of the many communication tools and technologies available today that encourage engagement and collaboration.”

Recruiters are a large part of the traditional headhunting model, but agencies are also thinking outside of the box when it comes to attracting talent. Creative firms are increasingly enticing candidates to come to them as opposed to the other way around.

Sid Lee is undoubtedly a leader in this regard, employing all kinds of innovative approaches, on top of the typical methods, to attract the right prospects. Its more innovative recruitment tactics include: 10-day creative bootcamps; a 12-week internship program; meet and greets; career fairs; and talks at schools.

“We are creating unconventional approaches in order to be able to detect rapidly if we have the right person.”

“We strive to be a transformative force for our clients, our staff, and the industry,” explains Annick Desy, VP, Human Resources at Sid Lee. “We therefore need to find people that adhere to our thinking and fit our culture so they can happily evolve in our work environment [...] This is why we are creating unconventional approaches in order to be able to detect rapidly if we have the right person and if they are up to Sid Lee standards.”

Putting candidates through the wringer

Further to that, recruitment is a sempiternal state of mind at Sid Lee; it’s not a processes necessitated by need.

“We’re constantly scouting promising talent and we try to keep in touch with people that we find interesting,” says Desy.

She adds that the agency takes its time before coming to a final decision on a candidate. Those selected are subjected to a gruelling interview process wherein they meet the managing partners and may be asked to spend time in Montreal, home of Sid Lee’s head office.

“I think recruitment is just as much the lifeblood of an agency as is new business.”

“This enables us to have different perspectives on a candidate, see them in action and really have a feel for them,” says Desy.

And that makes sense, for as much as technical acumen and the ability to deal with agency life are important, so is cultural fit. An agency’s culture, after all, is in many ways just as important a selling point for clients as is creative, technical know-how and the ability to execute effectively.

“We always put very specific parameters around any given hire whether it’s a very technical hire, having certain education and/or experience, but then we also paint some other parameters that fit around our culture,” says Cammaert.

It all amounts to a lot to consider when it comes to potential candidates, but the bottom line is, in this day and age of rapid change within the industry, it’s now incumbent on agencies to employ whatever means necessary to drive their business, and the industry as a whole, forward.

As Cammaert says: “I think recruitment is just as much the lifeblood of an agency as is new business.”

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