Limited Resources

In recent years, many Americans have watched their cost of living grow at a faster rate than their annual salaries—regardless of how well they do their jobs. On the other side, even companies that put their workers first have struggled to keep health insurance premiums low without sabotaging their bottom lines. In an attempt to gauge whether ad agencies are meeting their employees’ human-resource demands, Adweek asked both sides to name their top concerns. The American Association of Advertising Agencies gave the agencies’ perspective, which it gathered from a member survey completed last month. Atlanta-based recruiting firm Talent Zoo provided the employees’ side, from its experience placing hundreds in the industry each year. Additional reporting confirmed both lists.

Finding experienced and talented people continues to top agencies’ HR woes. Tom Phelan, vp of agency management services at the 4As, said the demand is greater than it has been since the boom days of the late 1990s. In response, the organization plans to resurrect its Web job board, which it shuttered in 2000, by the end of 2005, Phelan said.

“There’s a mini war for talent going on right now,” said Amy Hoover, evp of Talent Zoo. The greatest demand is for mid-level people with three to 10 years of experience, who command $50,000 to $80,000 annually, she said. A limited pool of talent could work to some employees’ advantage. “We are seeing random increases in salaries,” Hoover said. “Some shops are increasing it, some aren’t. But I predict they all will eventually.” Employees almost always get bigger raises when they change jobs—often as high as 20 percent—while annual raises for existing employees average 4 to 7 percent, she added.

Training has become a bigger issue because of the shortage of experienced people. Carmen Marston, vp of HR at Omnicom’s Zimmerman & Partners in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., described training as a “corporatewide inititative,” and independent Atlanta shop WestWayne mentions it when recruiting, said HR director Cristi Barchie.

Agencies’ health insurance costs continue to rise at double-digit rates each year, Phelan said. A recurring topic among 4A committees, it will be the topic of another survey later this year. “It’s a huge financial burden,” said Marston. IPG’s The Martin Agency in Richmond, Va., changed insurance carriers this year and raised the deductible on its policy to avoid higher premiums, said Becky Fielden, vp, compensation and benefits manager.

A sample of employees shows a wider variety of HR priorities, which can depend on the stage of a person’s career and his or her family obligations. Though it’s no surprise that most name salary, many also emphasize it’s not the only thing that matters. Listed as No. 2, quality of life issues include such factors as daily commute, flex time and the cost of living. Workers said an agency’s technological ability to use alternative forms of advertising, such as the Internet, was important—even more than career advancement.

For Erin Noel, a 26-year-old account planner, leaving The Martin Agency for Omnicom’s Integer in Denver three months ago was all about new opportunity and a chance to learn new skills. The move also gave her more responsibilities and a $10,000-a-year raise. “That was an added bonus, but not the reason I did it,” Noel said. “I was looking more for the overall experience.” She did not ask for, nor would she have accepted, a matching counter-offer from Martin, she said.

Brian Jordan, a copywriter who left Omnicom’s GSD&M in Austin, Texas, last month to join crosstown rival McGarrah/Jessee, wanted to work in a smaller shop where he could have more influence on the creative product. He also got a significant raise when he changed jobs. “It was definitely a factor, but not the only factor,” he said.