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Is there a way agencies can end the fight for talent?

Phil Turner

Ask any agency owner what their biggest challenge is and they’ll tell you it’s not sales, writes Phil Turner, head of digital at Bespoke. There’s a huge amount of work out there but where agencies can get tied up in knots is the fight for talent to deliver that work. But, does it have to be a fight? Or is there a better way?

My colleague, Steve Brennan, has previously written in these very pages about how stopping participating in traditional pitching for client work has helped bolster Bespoke’s growth.

Four years ago we decided to apply a simple rule that if we don’t genuinely believe we are the best agency the prospect could hire, we don’t pitch. The mindset we adopt instead is simply to help each client find the perfect agency for them, one with whom they can have a smooth and successful relationship for many years. If that’s not us, we are happy to refer them to one of our fellow agencies, if we believe they are a better fit.

We also decided to stop preparing pitches for clients and instead present what we do for our clients with simplicity and clarity and then have an adult conversation to establish whether we are likely to be a two-way match for each other or not. On many occasions we have found ourselves turning down large contracts as a result. But it turns out it pays to hold your nerve with this approach – we have achieved steady growth ever since.

More recently, we decided to take a similar approach to our hiring processes, aiming to make our client acquisition and team development processes work together in harmony.

We have found that when you apply the same, long-term approach to recruitment as to sales, the two come more smoothly into line. No more winning work, then hiring to service it afterwards. No more sales-led hire and fire of valuable talented team members, causing disruptions to overall team well-being and morale. Instead, stable growth, with client growth and team growth in tandem.

What does it take to achieve this? Well the main thing is patience. Patience and persistence throughout the hiring process is vital and it takes investment from both parties. As an agency, you have to have a very clear view of who you’re after, and at the same time, be very clear, open and honest with all candidates about who you are as an agency.

That means the process is long. But we have found it to be worth it. With a combined strategic approach to developing clients and team, and having the courage to turn clients down if they are not a perfect fit with the team’s existing skills base, it’s possible to stop hiring in a hurry, and maybe put an end to the fight for talent, for the benefit of agencies, team and clients alike.

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