B.C. talent for hire

Joe Suskin and his wife wanted an adventure. After working for 20 years in the ad business, mainly in South Africa (most recently at Young & Rubicam Gitam) as creative director, Suskin decided it was time for a major change. Moving to the other side of the world qualified.
But where, exactly, to go?

Joe Suskin and his wife wanted an adventure. After working for 20 years in the ad business, mainly in South Africa (most recently at Young & Rubicam Gitam) as creative director, Suskin decided it was time for a major change. Moving to the other side of the world qualified.

But where, exactly, to go?

Suskin had seen the award-winning campaigns coming out of B.C. – campaigns such as Alvin Wasserman’s ‘Super, Natural British Columbia,’ and Palmer Jarvis DDB’s Why Eyewear and McDonald’s ‘Toothless’ work – and he liked the B.C. sense of humour. Even though he knew moving to Toronto would likely be better for his career, Vancouver beckoned.

‘I knew the state of advertising in Vancouver was smaller,’ he says. ‘But it’s a beautiful environment. We thought we’d give it a shot.’

When he arrived last April, Suskin wanted a full-time position at a B.C. agency but so far, he has only been able to find freelance work. The job opportunities don’t look great in B.C. right now, he says.

Suskin is just one of a number of senior and mid-level industry veterans displaced in B.C.’s ad industry right now. With quiet layoffs and attrition circling the community, you’re left with a number of jobless industry members who are thickening up the freelance pool.

‘On the creative side, there’s more talent available on the street than there’s been in a while,’ says Alvin Wasserman, president and creative director at Vancouver-based Wasserman & Partners. High-level talent seems to be flowing in and out of the province like never before.

Vancouver’s Coastal Media Group, for instance, recently hired Joe Hospodarec as its new CD, taking him out of Alberta where he was creative director at Brown in Calgary. Bryant, Fulton & Shee is moving talent the other way, to Calgary to beef up its new office there. John Peloza, formerly BFS’s Vancouver direct response marketing director, is now the Calgary office manager. Shelley Warner, formerly part of the interactive team in Vancouver, is now head of the Interactive group in Calgary, and Adel Dehab jumped from a writing position in Vancouver to senior writer in Calgary. BFS also lured Rick Hart, a strategic planner working in London, England, back into the BFS fold.

And while most remain mum on agency layoffs, both Lanyon Phillips and Palmer Jarvis DDB have lost people this year due to layoffs and attrition. ‘Anybody who is letting go is trying to keep a low profile because they don’t want anybody to know that they’re letting go,’ says Frank Palmer, Vancouver-based CEO of Palmer Jarvis.

Yet while a dark cloud hangs over the larger agencies and those struggling to find jobs, some smaller agencies are taking advantage of the silver lining: an unprecedented amount of good, available talent on the market. Little Vancouver-based Big House, for instance, recently attracted Cam Landell as VP, director client services. Landell is a 16-year veteran of Vancouver’s ad industry, having worked in agencies such as McKim, Wasserman and most recently Lanyon Phillips.

‘He was one of those individuals who looked at the opportunities that were going around and we looked like a better option to him for a number of reasons,’ says Joan Fedoruk, partner at Big House. ‘We offered him a key position inside the company, and it created an interesting dynamic for him to consider. He may not have looked at us a year ago, or a year from now.’

Brian Cobbe also made the jump from large to small agency. Cobbe, a 20-year industry veteran, recently joined Coastal as president, leaving his SVP of marketing position at Palmer Jarvis. ‘I wanted to get closer to the street and to clients first and foremost, compared to my position at PJ,’ he says. ‘This group had all sorts of growth opportunities. It’s appealing to be on the ground floor of something.’

But as the small shops boost the talent in their ranks, the big agencies aren’t exactly quaking in their boots.

‘Most of the smaller agencies can’t afford the talent in the first place and they’re not going to get the best talent because they don’t have the accounts or the salaries to offer them,’ Palmer says.

Peter Lanyon, chair and CCO of Vancouver’s Lanyon Phillips, counters that there are enough good people for everyone. ‘There is an opportunity to get some good talented people right now,’ he says. ‘But there’s room for the large shops with big accounts and the smaller ones, so I don’t see it as any big problem.’

What’s yet to shake out is how clients will be affected. Fedoruk says clients could start moving with the staff. ‘The big agencies could start losing respected clients that have been with them for reasons of creative or account teams,’ she warns. ‘And when key account people move on, there could be a loss of business with that.’

Finally, client movement, and in fact the whole face of the B.C. market, could also be affected by the arrival of new blood, such as Suskin.

‘It’s refreshing if someone comes in with a lot of European or Asian experience and influences the market,’ says Wasserman. ‘The flavour in this market is slightly brighter and edge-oriented advertising which is great for the profile. But as business needs become paramount, the quest for people who can be more relevant with their brighter, edgier work means new minds are always helpful with that. That can change the flavour of the market long term.’