The Revolving Door Isn't Inevitable: Tips on Retaining Creative Talent

Helping employees grow can help the enterprise thrive

Just over 10 years ago, I walked through the front door of Camp+King as a fresh-eyed intern and was greeted by a small group of go-getters and creators waiting to take me in. It felt like an agency where I could thrive. But, if you asked me on that first day how long I'd stay, I probably would've said "a year or two," not yet knowing the many positive effects that talent retention can have, both for individual employees and the agency as a whole.

At the time, my industry knowledge was limited. The prevailing wisdom said that in order to advance in your career, you needed to be nimble and nomadic—bouncing around to get higher pay, better titles and more opportunities.

Now, as I look back at my 10+ years at the agency, I see the huge advantages to retaining and building talent over the long haul. I've found that it doesn't always take Herculean efforts to keep people to help grow the operation beside you. While everyone is different, here are a few things that I've found effective at fostering and retaining new talent.

Give them opportunities

People are filled with unlimited potential that they're waiting to release into the world, but they'll never be able to show that potential if you don't give them opportunities early and often. It's a cliché for a reason. With younger talent, you can start small, but be ready to give them bigger and better opportunities as they become more secure. And if they underperform at any point, keep in mind that they're learning, and a miss shouldn't send them back to square one.

Give them access

Keep a progressive attitude towards hierarchy. Everyone at an agency knows where the buck stops and whose names are on the door, but there should never be a sense that anyone is unapproachable. The more people can engage with everyone at all levels, the sooner they can feel like they're part of a team. It also ensures that they will get comfortable speaking their mind without fear of repercussions or alienation.

Recognize growth

I distinctly remember someone early in my career whispering to me, "Once you're a junior somewhere, they'll never see you as anything other than a junior." For a while, I believed that was true. But, experience and growth are actually pretty easy to spot. Be proactive with advancement and rewarding progress. It makes people excited to grow into these new roles so they don't spend their time wondering if the next year or two will look more or less the same.

Mentor, Mentor, Mentor

Regardless of level, people want to learn new things from others who are invested in their success. As Camp + King grew over the years, we've become much more proficient at mentoring in both traditional and non-traditional ways, and it stands as one of the top reasons people stick around. Mentors focus on each individual and learn what makes them tick, what stresses them out, and how to best nurture them. This gives staffers somewhere to turn when they need to talk, plan, or engage in a venting session. If people feel unseen and unheard, they'll look for the first way out. Don't let this happen.

Let people invest in the agency's success

No one wants to go through their career feeling like they'll only ever be a worker bee, so find ways to let people invest in the success of the collective. Sometimes this can be through financial means like bonuses, but emotional investments are valuable as well. There are a lot of ups and downs in the advertising world, and being transparent about the process and behind-the-scenes happenings can help everyone feel more tied to the successes of the agency. There's infinitely more pride when you can stop saying, "I just work there" and begin saying, "I helped build that."

I don't know where I'll be in the next 10+ years, but I do know there's something special about the journey I started at Camp+King. By avoiding the common behavior of the industry, I found a wonderful place to grow, learn and build a career. I like knowing our history and being able to point to the past and see how far we've come.

I can remember when it was just 15 people trying to do it all. Now, I've seen us grow through our successes and failures. That's something I wouldn't be able to say if I had stepped into the revolving door all those years ago and let it spin me around into a different future.

For all I know, I could still be spinning today if I hadn't found an agency that saw something special in me, grabbed me by the arm, and said, "let's go for a different kind of ride."

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