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There are several recruiting business myths around the coining of the term headhunter, but no true origin story. I have one. I like to imagine that in the early days of advertising, creatives were referred to as “heads” in reference to their superior brainpower (sorry, account executives). One day at a large shop like Leo Burnett, after winning the Kraft account, an executive shouted, “Get me ten heads in here to work on mac and cheese ads!” The order was made to hunt down talented heads, and the rest is history. Maybe it’s true—who knows? What we do know is that headhunters have done incredible things for many of us. I mean, c’mon, they take your portfolio and shop you around. How great is that? Hollywood stars and athletes have agents. We have headhunters.

Every day, they’re talking to more people around the industry than anyone. They know who’s hiring, what’s hot, who’s not and how much everyone is making. So if we want to learn where the industry stands right now, how we’ve recovered from the last year and where we could be heading, there’s no one better group to give us a pulse on the business.

Where have we come in the last eighteen months?

KARA TAYLOR, managing director, North America, FBI TALENT CO. (Boulder, CO)
Obviously, most of last year was incredibly tough, and a lot of agencies had to make really painful decisions while downsizing their staff. There was still some hiring despite this, but it was very quiet by comparison to past years.

ASHLEY JAHN, cofounder/creative recruiter, Creative Search Consultants (Santa Monica, CA)
This year, we’ve seen a big push by agencies and brands to hire the roles that were put on hold in 2020.

How do you think the work-from-home aspect will adapt after the pandemic?

GILLY TAYLOR, founder/creative recruiter, Gilly & Co (Los Angeles, CA)
I definitely foresee some kind of hybrid working schedule, maybe with fluid hours. I believe that a combination of working in office and from home will be beneficial as it allows employees to be more productive.

MARGOT BEALL, senior recruiter and content producer (San Francisco, CA)
I think working remotely will become more of the norm.

Jahn: The five-day workweek will never be the same. Most companies and agencies will return to offices, but with a hybrid approach.

SASHA MARTENS, founder/president, Sasha the Mensch (New York, NY)
Shrewd companies are embracing a more borderless model. Leaders are starting to understand that you can have a productive team without having to be in the same city, country or continent.

The five-day workweek will never be the same. Most companies and agencies will return to offices, but with a hybrid approach.” —Ashley Jahn

Is there still value in being together in an office?

Martens: There’s a lot of value to close proximity in this industry. The majority of people crave the normality of constant human interaction, and there are real benefits to a collaborative environment, primarily in terms of building a career.

Jahn: I think the energy and creativity that take place when people are together can’t be replaced. However, I do think people are also very capable of working effectively from afar. Have you seen salary levels for creative positions affected?

K. Taylor: I know a lot of creatives had to take pay cuts last year. Some of them are back on their previous salaries by now, but not all. In general, I have not seen a massive difference in salary ranges.

Martens: I think companies are trying to do more with fewer people. A creative director might be earning the same at an agency, but instead of two or three creative directors on a piece of business, there’s only one.

Will agencies continue to downsize their office space?

G. Taylor: Yes. Some agencies have either ended their office lease with the idea of working from home, while others have bought into new leases with a much smaller space.

What advice would you give to someone who lost their job during COVID cutbacks and is still looking?

CARLA GIGANTE, owner/executive creative recruiter, The Gigante Agency (New York, NY)
Hang in there... agencies are hiring. Do your research. Look at agency websites for current openings. Talk to friends and colleagues and ask them if they can forward your information to the right people.

Beall: Persevere, network, and be flexible and adaptable to new companies you wouldn’t have previously considered.

HILLARY BLACK, vice president, global executive recruitment and leadership development, WPP (New York, NY)
Remember that when you will work again is a matter of when, not if. Use this time to expand your abilities in both hard and soft skills. If ever there was a time to take workshops in emotional intelligence or leadership skills, now is the time, and there are free options available. I also highly recommend looking at your LinkedIn profile. Every section and word is a way for a recruiter to find you. Most importantly, it helps to practice telling your career story that shows how far you’ve come.

Martens: I believe the best approach to finding a job that fits you is to create a list of companies where your skill set is well-suited and begin reaching out directly. Nine times out of ten, I find this direct method of outreach is more successful for job seekers than applying to positions online.

K. Taylor: Try to do anything that can bring you joy and give you purpose. Volunteer, learn a language or an instrument, tutor your kids or just hang out with them more. And if there are skills you can develop or polish that are relevant to your career, do that too. Do whatever you can to connect to your purpose, and realize your career alone does not define you.

Do whatever you can to connect to your purpose, and realize your career alone does not define you.” —Kara Taylor

Will there be any silver linings at the end of all this?

Martens: I’m hopeful that people can be more empathetic in their understanding of personal struggles that others are going through. Whether that’s being out of work, balancing work with kids or elderly parents, mental health issues, and more. I would hope this time gives all of us better insight and sensitivity to create better support systems.

K. Taylor: I really hope we continue to look out for each other, remain open to trying new things, and lift each other up as much as we can by believing in the superpower of our collective passion and creativity.

G. Taylor: The push for diversity and inclusion in hiring is now at the forefront of conversations, and hiring managers and recruiters are changing their policies.

Let’s talk more about diversity and inclusion. You’ve seen agencies becoming more diverse with their staffing?

G. Taylor: Definitely. There’s a strong push for diversity hiring in every discipline across the board. I’m proud to be a member of Allies in Recruiting, a group that was founded in 2020 that now has about 75 percent of industry recruiters as members. Our industry hasn’t been focused on diversity, equity, inclusion or culture, and there is now solid momentum to change that.

K. Taylor: Agencies and their clients, in addition to organizations and individuals, are stepping up and taking accountability in ways they haven’t before in regards to understanding and amplifying industry disparities while pushing to recruit and retain diverse talent. Some are further along than others, and there’s still a long way to go in general, but it feels like it’s finally here to stay, and that’s a very good thing.

Martens: Hiring diversity is one thing, but the other part is creating a healthier work environment where women and POC feel valued and comfortable to be themselves at work. This is a big topic of conversation in agencies. The key will be sustained long-term focus and energy on these issues in the coming years.

Are agencies taking on ageism as well?

K. Taylor: The industry simply must do a better job at making sure there’s always a place for experienced talent. Right now, talent has to do more with less, be faster and increasingly efficient, and get to smart solutions quickly. We need experienced talent to mentor and nurture lower-level talent without feeling like they’re training their replacements—before they’re ready to be replaced. Not everyone is going to make it to the top of an organization, but by making title advancement the only way to earn more money, we’re setting at least half of the people in this business to eventually be “aged out.” There has to be more than one way to value, reward and retain experienced talent. Until that’s the case, I unfortunately don’t think ageism will go away. What’s the outlook for students coming out of portfolio and design schools right now?

Gigante: I think it’s a very exciting time for those beginning their careers because they have so many options: traditional agencies, in-house, production companies, digital, experiential... the list goes on and on.

G. Taylor: The kids graduating today will be the leaders in affecting the advancement of new technologies and new media to their clients.

K. Taylor: There are bigger, potentially world-changing problems to solve now. [The students’] opportunities to help brands become a big part of really important and necessary solutions have no limits.

Martens: Their creative skills can be applied across many different industries, and there’s opportunity to make real social change. As seen last summer with numerous movements—Black Lives Matter, fair pay, student debt forgiveness—there’s a chance to create positive change, which is often best led by younger generations. Their skills and energy can shape the future. ca

Dave Kuhl is a writer and creative director who’s worked for top agencies in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Diego. He also cofounded a boutique agency and is a four-time Cannes Lion winner. Along with being a contributor to Communication Arts, he works as a brand creative director/writer for Bauer Hockey.


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