In the past few weeks, it seems like the party for Big Tech has ended.
Amid fears of a looming recession, a slew of Silicon Valley giants have announced plans to freeze hiring or lay off staff in the coming months as revenues slow and stock prices tumble.
For the advertising industry, which has long been losing talent to Big Tech, layoffs and hiring freezes could present an opportunity to lure back talent amid an ongoing talent crunch plaguing the marketplace. But the industry will have to compete with the sizable salaries and endless perks that Big Tech offers to become an attractive alternative.
In a changing talent marketplace, Campaign asked industry leaders:
Given the war for talent, do the recent hiring freezes and layoffs at Big Tech companies present an opportunity for the ad industry?
Here are their responses.
Jeff Geheb, global chief experience officer, VMLY&R
The short answer is, yes. But the opportunity is nuanced in a few important ways.
Every person in the ad industry is continuously rationalizing the effect of technology companies on the business. Creative and media companies especially cannot just understand Big Tech at a thematic level. Agencies differentiate by knowing the smallest details behind how platforms work and how they will innovate in the future. Talent coming directly from these companies will always be relevant and welcome!
The appeal of this talent is to get closer to how technologies show up in the hands of consumers. Agencies use technology — Big Tech creates it — so it’s a different skill set that feels a bit more like field medicine than a traditional academic study. For those in tech who want to use their knowledge in new, creative ways, our industry is a fantastic place to see how technology is used in the hands of the businesses it was built for.
The challenge will be attracting technology talent into the ad industry. It’s not an intuitive place to think about supporting a technical career path. So where the work, culture and creativity is demonstrated through the application of technology — that will bring in new talent. Where our industry treats technology as a downstream consideration — it’s a turn off. The agencies that benefit from the opportunity are ones where tech is in the DNA of their culture.
Alexa Zonsius, senior director, creative talent, Genuine Search Group; partner, Allies in Recruiting
Each year, we see more crossover in talent across advertising, tech, consulting, entertainment and brand teams. If there’s a pause in any sector, the others have a chance to compete for near-hires suddenly left on the market.
Agencies do, in fact, have a chance to attract talent if they are able to pay attention to the benefits that often draw talent toward tech. If ad agencies can modernize their offerings for talent as they compete for top candidates, it could yield wins in both acquisition and retention.
For example, agencies' family leave policies often fall short or rely on state benefits, and even when they don't, most are usually not in full effect until after the first year which puts anyone starting a family at an immediate career disadvantage. It forces someone to make the impossible choice between advancing their career or starting and growing their family. In an increasingly remote world, it gives tech companies the obvious advantage as their benefits continue to outshine ad agencies.
Greg Paull, co-founder and principal, R3
The tech industry is laying off [staff] because their advertising revenue is declining, and this, in turn, will make holding companies skittish.
A far better opportunity for holding companies is to look to younger, lower-cost talent graduating at the end of Q2 and building a sustainable career plan for them to come into the industry from the ground up. Marketing in 2025 will look nothing like marketing in 2015 — and only through this injection of young blood can the industry stay relevant and connected.
Lauren Hoops, VP and managing digital director, Moroch
With the rise of digital, advertising companies have had to bring their benefits, perks, office environment and compensation in line with tech companies in order to compete for top tier talent. Now with that gap bridged, ad agencies are more competitive in the job market. Add in hiring freezes at tech companies, and we have a level playing field.
There will always be an appeal to being able to tout that you work at Google or Meta. But with a recession looming, top-tier talent will be looking for security above all. If agencies can prove that they weathered 2020’s COVID-19 crisis well, then they are set up for success with prospects.
On the flip side, when ad tech giants are understaffed, ad agencies receive less support, custom solutions, and data from their reps, which causes more of a strain on agencies to deliver on their own while spending the same amount.
Dimi Albers, CEO, Dept
Yes, it certainly has an impact on the industry. For one, retaining top talent becomes a bit easier without Big Tech companies poaching people on a daily basis. Two, people are less jumpy. They see that some of their friends and former colleagues that may have jumped to Big Tech are not really in greener pastures at the moment. And lastly, competitive hiring is a bit less sharp now. Expectations seem to be slightly more realistic step by step.
Katy Thorbahn, partner and managing director, Shiny
Recent layoffs and hiring freezes will definitely impact adland, but maybe not in the way we anticipate. The pandemic and the economic downturn may be just what the ad industry needed to bring new, fresh talent into the mix. The pandemic has made virtually everyone comfortable with distributed team members which removes any arbitrary geographical limits on where people can live and work.
With the hiring freezes in some sectors, the talent agencies need to continue to grow and may now be looking at advertising as a desirable place to build a career. The challenge lies in helping those people see it as such. For independent agencies in particular, that is all about elevating the individual impact one can have on an agency’s direction and evolution. Part of our job is to help bring those long-term growth opportunities to light.
Bob Bailey, CEO and founding partner, Truth Collective
I think this is a “hell yes” answer. The creative industry gets more creative when it finds new talent pools to tap into. Think about it: people from the tech industry know how to solve problems, are solutions oriented AND are systems thinkers, which means they can create at pace and scale. Knowing how much emphasis the creative industry is placing on wellbeing and addressing burnout, it could be a breath of fresh air for someone from Big Tech.
Brendan Condon, global chief revenue officer, Captify
The independent ad industry has been challenged with recruiting and retaining talent in part because of over compensation from Big Tech companies. This contributed to a severe brain drain at these companies, pulling all the expertise out of employees and then making them expendable. Now we're seeing that such high operating expenses weren’t sustainable.
After years of rapid expansion and accelerated hiring, freezes, layoffs and even offers being rescinded are changing the way talent perceives the hyper-competitive U.S. tech sector. It presents an opportunity for the ad industry to hire and keep top talent because the playing field is leveled. There is a growing awareness of the value people get — across culture, innovation and career growth.
Proactive companies in the ad industry will pinpoint the best talent. People will experience the difference between feeling like a cog in the machine vs. valued individuals.
George Ellis, owner and creative director, Bandolier Media
Any shift this substantial opens up possibilities, but in this market the possibility needs to be a win for talent working to find more meaning and fairness in their work.
It's always important to seek people from different industries and disciplines. When the talent helps to ensure a more nuanced view of creativity, that's a win. But what if agencies don’t have a plan for the talent? If an agency was waiting for a mass influx of available tech talent, they probably weren't looking very hard for those people in the first place.
This turning point should remind agencies that talent doesn't have to come from within the industry. Thinking beyond traditional talent descriptions defies insular thinking. Whether it's tech or finance or any other industry, it's important that an agency has a variety of skill sets and backgrounds beyond the rotating cast of characters from the usual holding company rosters. But agencies: What is your plan to unleash the potential of outside perspective? And talent: are they making that plan clear to you?