Fighting the talent crunch

There's a war for talent raging within the Canadian marketing industry. Business is good and hiring is hot, and available talent is pushing the compensation envelope as far as the market will allow....

There’s a war for talent raging within the Canadian marketing industry. Business is good and hiring is hot, and available talent is pushing the compensation envelope as far as the market will allow.

Employers on both the client and agency sides of the business are finding slim pickings when searching for qualified marketing talent. They’re faced with paying salaries that are higher than they’d like, and even those with little experience are garnering hefty compensation packages.

Companies are also discovering it’s not just big bucks that potential employees are demanding. Job candidates are shopping around to find employers that offer flexible work arrangements, more work-life balance, and opportunities for personal and career growth.

The industry is divided on just why it’s experiencing such a talent crunch. Some believe it’s because business is booming. Others say that the Canadian marketing talent pool is depleted because fewer young people are being attracted to the business.

‘There is a war for talent going on,’ says Heidi Ehlers, vice-president of Toronto recruitment firm Mandrake Management Consultants. ‘If you talk to a candidate today, you can be guaranteed that if you don’t make a decision today, someone else will and you’ll lose them.’

‘I’ve been doing this [running Mandrake's creative practice] for five years and I’ve seen salaries creep up a little – 10% to 15% — but in the past year to 18 months, there’s been a big, disproportionate jump in salaries. There is a shrinking talent pool in marketing and advertising and we’re losing these people to the U.S. and to the digital area.’

Arthur Fleischmann, president of Toronto-based advertising agency Ammirati Puris, says salaries relative to depth of experience, particularly in the digital area, are outrageous. ‘People who have gone from school, a general agency or client side position in the digital arena for as little as six months to a year, can command salaries 50% greater than general account service.’

Peter Shier, president of Harrod & Mirlin/FCB, has also been fazed by the sky-high salaries. ‘You don’t like to do it because it throws your cost base out of whack, but you don’t have a choice.’

There is no shortage of creative people who want to work at Palmer Jarvis DDB, but Frank Palmer, the agency’s president and CEO, says it’s tough to find the right people in other disciplines. ‘Account service people at senior levels are very hard to find. The only way we’re finding them is through our own system, where we bring people from another office. In fact, [our U.S. parent] is asking us to move people from Canada because they’re having the same problem.’

Rob Guenette, vice-president of marketing for the Export brand at Molson Breweries, believes the Canadian talent pool is pretty much depleted and says it’s not going to be easy to attract bright young people to marketing because they have more options, are more mobile and are bigger risk takers than ever before. ‘Years ago, when recruiting grads from Western and Queen’s, they wanted to start with a tier-one packaged goods marketing experience, such as [Procter & Gamble], Unilever, Kraft or Nestlé,’ he says.

‘These days, it’s less attractive to them in Canada because they wonder why they should work in Toronto just to pick up work from other parts of the world. They ask themselves, ‘Why don’t I just go to where the work’s being done? Why don’t I go to the U.S. or overseas?”

Some companies, meanwhile, are getting creative in their hunt for talent, as well as taking a proactive approach to attracting young people to the business.

For instance, Mark Childs, vice-president of marketing for Kellogg Canada, who claims to look at every resume he receives, says he finds a lot of candidates through referrals from his current staff, in addition to using an outside recruitment firm and recruiting people right out of school.

‘We’re thinking more proactively about hiring strategies than people may have done in the past,’ he says, ‘but I think you have to be looking ahead of where the vacancies may be.’

Employees are looking for more than big salaries, with the chance of finding a good work-life balance at the top of their shopping list. They also want to work for companies that are prepared to invest in their career development.

Many client-side employers have quality of life benefits built into their compensation packages or promote a balanced lifestyle through their culture.

In addition to its medical and dental plan, AGF Management, for instance, subsidizes gym memberships, and has both a bonus plan and an employee stock option plan.

Agencies, too, have started putting a bigger emphasis on work-life balance.

Harrod & Mirlin/FCB, for one, offers employees an in-house gym, regular company social events, and in-house training on an ongoing basis.

The talent crunch has shown agencies and clients alike that they have to be more creative about retaining their talent, as it’s less stressful and far less expensive than having to recruit and train new people.

Bruce Elliott, president of Labatt Breweries of Canada, says reward and recognition is key. This includes offering employees challenging assignments, chances for advancement and, for international companies, the opportunity to move to an office offshore.

‘You want to make sure your best people know how you feel, so we offer robust career development and a strong succession planning system. While the career path isn’t guaranteed, it shows you care. People are our best assets. If you don’t manage them, feed and care for them, they go away and go to work for someone else.’

Marilyn Bassin, managing director of direct marketing for Royal Bank of Canada, agrees. She says that at the bank, a good work-life balance is encouraged. ‘Families come first. It’s a very human environment and I think that’s crucial.’

Of course, that could all change if a recession actually materializes. But Heidi Ehlers of Mandrake thinks it will have little effect. ‘Companies are always going to need to hire good people. We were busy last recession and we’re busy now.’