Curious Collaborators: the new agency rock stars

Originally Posted On
Campaign US

The competition for talent is a constant discussion topic in advertising. Agencies and clients are now competing with startups and tech companies for the best talent. Our pool is shrinking while our labor demands have never been higher. We constantly talk about finding "good resumes" or the "right skillsets."

When it comes time to find that "right skillset," aside from what candidates have on paper, we should be looking for the kind of people who succeed in an agency environment, not just the people who have created the right collection of experiences on their resumes. We need Curious Collaborators.

The constantly in-flux agency environment necessitates that we rethink staffing, recruitment, interviewing and finding the right fit for open positions. Much of the reason why agency life is analogous to what a Greek philosopher said long ago—"change is the only constant"—is because of an evolving media landscape that won’t ever level off or settle down.

In an environment where change and innovation are valued so highly, we need to hire people with a heightened sense of curiosity. The people who aren’t satisfied with the status quo. The ones who aren’t afraid of change. Who aren’t spending their days defending the way things are done. We need people who think there is a better way and want to find it. Albert Einstein famously quipped, "I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious." He may have been modest, but the principle is true.

If you look back at the beginnings of digital in most agencies in the mid-1990s, there was a really interesting shift in agency talent. People think it was the technically savvy who were the first to jump to digital. There were lots of the now-celebrated geeks who found new life and value in the transition to digital.

But the interesting development wasn’t the techy people. It was the rest of the crew. They were the curious associates, the ones who wanted to chase something new and exciting instead of mastering what they were already good at. The innovators who see the changing media landscape as an opportunity to do great things instead of an unstable, uncomfortable period to be weathered.

The digital age also enabled significant advertising growth. Agencies are bigger than ever, and there are more of them—more people doing more work than ever before. Even in a time of shrinking margins and profits, there is growth because of all the new work. The progress and proliferation of channels has caused every project team to grow. Not too long ago, major campaigns were launched with fewer than a dozen people in account, creative, strategy and media doing the bulk of the projects. Now it takes an army to fill all the various channels used to support campaigns and create custom content for each of those channels.

You can no longer let your rock-star creative team go behind closed doors for a few weeks and come out with their solutions fully baked. The days of the big-reveal meeting should be behind us. We need the people who are creating platform ideas to share them and vet them with subject matter experts in social, web development, experiential, content strategy and production as they are working. We need to champion the collaborators: the people who look at team members as people who can make their ideas bigger and better. We don’t need creative people who cling to their ideas and spend their energy defending every detail of their original idea.

In today’s multi-agency models, the need for collaborators and open-source thinkers is even more crucial. We aren’t just asking our associates to work with people down the hall, we are asking them to work with extended team members from other agencies. Not everybody can do it. The idea of turning competitors into collaborators is very challenging. Curious Collaborators see working across agencies as an opportunity to learn and grow from new ideas—no matter where they first originate.

Curious Collaborators aren’t foreign to agencies. We’ve always had them walking our hallways, sharing ideas, proposing what may at first seem outlandish and asking for input. The new agency world and industry have just made them more valuable. When you look at some of the biggest integrated campaigns, I’m sure you’ll see that the Curious Collaborators are already contributing. Find them. And be sure to champion them in your organization. They are the key to your future.

Pete Imwalle is EVP/Chief Operating Officer at RPA.

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