We interview people all the time, even when we’re not hiring.
There’s no arguing that the quality of junior talent in our industry is exceptional. This is a group that’s taking a systematic approach to studying our craft, while balancing it with a pleasantly messy (as Global Planning Director, Heidi Hackemer, labeled it when screening candidates for the Barn program) mix of other interests that feed their insatiable curiosity.
Yet, there is an alarming trend about this talent. It has to do with packaging.
We look for T-shaped people when hiring. In other words, talent that’s got a specific area of awesomeness, but stretches into other areas in a highly collaborative way. This is distinct from being a hybrid talent, a label that most junior talent in our industry self-apply early into most of these conversations: “I’m a mix of strategy, creative, media and production.” True hybrid talent has more than one depth of expertise. That’s exceptionally hard (I know, I was a sub-par Media Director before being a sub-par Creative Director).
No doubt this crop of people is indeed a mix of expertise. In fact, it’s likely more true than of prior generations of ad talent. The question remains though, what arenas do they have or seek a depth of expertise in? In other words, what’s the base of the T?
No one wants to be put in a box, ourselves included. But, ultimately clients want to know what they’re buying, especially in a world of ever less familiar job titles. At BBH for example, it isn’t until clients see engagement planning as a discipline that they fully appreciate the value it brings to the table in today’s marketing landscape.
Which brings us to the punch line. The junior talent in this industry needs to remain buyable, even as they become messier and potentially more hybrid. So many talented young folks do a little bit of everything, but few are willing to commit to doing one particular thing quite well. In other words, those with the potential to truly be hybrid talent—deep skills in more than one vertical expertise—never manage to gain the depth to deliver on the promise such talent has.
Yet, it’s exactly that talent that I know every agency in the country would hand a job to right now if they were just more buyable. The question is simply, which one needs to change? The talent and how they package themselves? Or the agencies that struggle to explain their value to clients?