Hiring in a Job Seeker's Market

Thoughts on attracting talent when the tables have turned

A familiar story has been surfacing as we've been nearing the end of the pandemic here in the U.S.—companies that are looking to hire having trouble finding talented, qualified or even interested candidates.

I was out to drinks last night with a couple of former colleagues and one of them was telling me about a bigger agency we previously worked at losing 50 people in the last few months, and now find themselves in dire need of hiring … but they can't. Or at least, they're having trouble. 

This isn't unique to advertising. I was up in Northern California last week and ate at a friend's restaurant. He and his brother, who own the place, were hosting, waiting tables and cooking, all because they can't seem to find people to hire. Up in Lake Tahoe, a blackjack dealer told us they're offering free blackjack training as a last-ditch effort to try to get people to work the tables.

In all three cases, the work is coming back, people are dining out and gambling, and brands are spending on advertising again. But what do we do to attract talent?

I don't claim to have the answer, but I do have some thoughts.

Let me give a little context first of where I'm coming from. I started my own ad agency in February of last year. The timing couldn't have been odder. But given that my model was always meant to work as a collective, it not only worked but thrived. We just needed that push off the dock, which we got early on. 

Be the flame, not the moth.

This is one basic principle I've been trying to follow from day one. If done poorly, this principle turns into the tree falling in the woods—if what you're doing doesn't hold any interest, then don't expect anyone to care. But if done right, the work you do for brands, your own self-promotion, your agency culture, word-of-mouth, and possibly you yourself, will all be the things people are talking about and drawn to.

I've done this by stepping in front of the camera and making myself the brand. I fully understand this is not the solution for everyone. But the way it has helped me with recruitment is by making and showcasing the work that I like and giving others a peak into my sensibilities. If you are a person who likes the same sort of thing that I'm doing, or better yet, creates that same sort of thing and wants to do more of it, then many of them reach out. This has happened dozens of times and has brought in an array of talent and relationships which have formed into paying work for several of these people.


Of course, putting yourself front and center for promotion isn't for everyone, but the idea is to search out what your company does well, what is attractive about it, zero in on that, and make that your north star for attracting talent. 

Culture matters.

Creating and maintaining a culture in an industry that cycles people through so quickly is a tough, tough thing to do. And honestly, even if your agency is really well-regarded in culture, there is almost always going to be a scathing rant on Fishbowl, if not several. You're not going to win them all over. But the agencies that doing it better aren't so worried about trying to convince you of who they are and what they're about; they're comfortable in their skin, know who they are, what they do, and where they want to go. 

Celebrate who you've got.

It's easy to feel like a cog in a machine at any agency, but especially larger ones. Rewards, spotlights, recognition, one-on-one lunches, bonuses, pats on the back—these things matter. The more this is done, the more others inside and outside the organization take notice, and before you know it that's your reputation—that you take care of your people, that they matter to the agency.

I work with a lot of freelancers, so as soon as I built up the reserves I made it one of our core attributes to pay contractors as soon as we can. Often on the day the project is complete. Because I know that's a pain point for freelancers and an easy way to build a good reputation.

I don't carry many employees full-time, but we've been growing, so that number has been growing lately as well. I recently added a junior copywriter, and I asked if he would be willing to be a part of a video announcing his arrival, and he was all for it. Again, this isn't for everyone, but it was a fun way to bring him on board and make him be the hero centerstage.

Ben Englander | ButterCo
Treat them well on their way out the door.

People jump jobs all the time in advertising, and layoffs are a regular occurrence, too. Either way, this is a time to make sure that your former employees feel good about their time spent there. It's not just about boomerang employees either, it's about those asking around and trying to get a sense of a place from those who have been in the trenches before. 

Good people and places get rewarded.

If you're an agency that is annually taking home gobs of awards, that has desirable brands to work on left and right, that exudes cool, then good for you. But for the rest, the work is only part of the equation. Being good to your employees, your co-workers, hiring people who are also good people, these things payoff in the long haul. Other parts of the equation can be more easily forgiven when looking for a job—like the city it's in, the clients, the responsibilities, even the pay—if there is a strong reputation of being a good place to work. This doesn't happen overnight, but it's something that will come back in your favor if you walk the walk. 

Like real estate and dogecoin, job seekers are riding high, but they won't always have the upper hand. Ebbs and flows will come into play, so a last word of caution to those who are currently riding high in the saddle: Be good to your agency, co-workers, bosses and underlings. Much like the agencies desperate to hire now, reputation and integrity matter in the long haul. Sure, the quality of your work does, too, but beyond that, what people feel about you, how they talk about you when you're not in the room, is very important and will play a major role when the shoe is on the other foot. 

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Jeffrey Butterworth
Jeffrey Butterworth is a creative director and founder of ButterCo.

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