How lockdown has changed the agency recruitment market

Alistair Hardaker's picture
by Alistair Hardaker
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As part of Prolific North’s Partner programme, the participating businesses gathered for the second quarterly meeting with editorial.

These meetings serve as the basis for agenda-setting across the North’s tech, creative and marketing industries, bringing together a range of business leaders.

Hunt for talent

Top of mind for the second meeting of the year was the agency skills market, and the disruption to hiring and retention caused by a year of lockdown - primarily the lack of talent looking for a new role.

Looking back at lockdown’s effect to-date, Rosie McPhail of Prolific partner and recruiter Better Placed said, in her experience, "if [agency staff] have been with their agency over Covid and their agency has been loyal to them, there is a loyalty [in return] which is a good thing.”

Simon Bollon, MD at Boutique, concurred, saying "it's a remarkably good thing that talent is staying loyal to agencies that have been loyal to them, and looked after them".

But Rob Shaw, CEO of Leeds-based CreativeRace, said good staff retention causes its own issue, primarily that employees receive counter-offers from rival agencies looking to expand.

Retention versus salary

Shaw said it poses "an interesting challenge for agency owners", when staff remain in their job and receive lots of counter-offers.

En masse, these offers cause "a big lump of salary inflation", he warned, adding that he’s interested to see if counter-offers this year will ultimately result in "raising the bar on base salaries”.

Bollon said Boutique hadn't had a member of staff resign in 28 months, but agreed that across the agency landscape, lack of staff turnover also brought with it the need for pay rises, increasing salary bills.

And with a remote work option proven to work across the agencies, MacPhail said that this option was now competing with salary as the major perk when staff considered a new role.

But Shaw said there were many schools of thought about remote working, which could lead to more movement - and less loyalty - in talent for those who get it wrong.

"This year will start to demonstrate who's managed to get it right," he said of remote working techniques - from days out of office to flexible working.

"No one's got the right answer for this because we've never struck the perfect balance, even for those organisations that have huge amounts of flexibility before Covid," he said, because the client's typically wouldn't have had the same flexibility.

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