NEW YORK An agency is only as good as its people. So where do you find them?
The competition for creative talent has always been pretty heated, but add changing client demands and more complex media options, and agencies have been forced to look farther and wider for new recruits.
"We've gotten to the point where it feels like all the great people are working either for us or our good friends," says Jeff Goodby, co-chairman of the San Francisco shop Goodby, Silverstein & Partners. "You got any suggestions?" Traditional ad schools remain a standard source for malleable newbies, and award shows for rising stars, but creative directors are taking greater risks with unproven talent. Crispin, for example, hires "rejects" from other agencies, and Goodby hires talent with no agency experience and molds them to their needs. Here, six agencies share how they found their latest promising hires:
CRISPIN PORTER + BOGUSKY
Steve Babcock, 30, copywriter
Babcock, who joined the agency five months ago, got his start in advertising in the mailroom of Salt Lake City-based Euro RSCG/DSW in 1999 (the shop has since closed its doors there). After becoming an art director and then a copywriter, Babcock moved on to several other local Utah agencies, including Razor (now closed) and W (now Struck.) All the while, he campaigned for a job at Crispin by sending work and notes that expressed his desire to work there. So far, Babcock has produced work for VW—a spot promoting The Bourne Ultimatum—and Bell helmets, and was recently handed creative leadership on the agency's latest account win, Domino's Pizza.
Crispin Porter + Bogusky prefers new hires to be, well, not so new. "We don't hire too many people right out of school because it's kind of tough out of school," says Alex Bogusky, CCO. "You need a couple of years at a place." Generally, Bogusky says the agency is always on the lookout for a few good rejects—or those with reject complexes, meaning it wants the kind of person who can pick himself up after being told "no."
"What we loved about Steve was that he has wanted to be here since he found his way into the industry," says Meghan Schlicher, creative recruiter at Crispin. "He has always felt he belonged here, but never thought he could get in." The MDC Partners shop, which has won a slew of industry awards—including the Titanium Grand Prix Lion at this year's Cannes for its Burger King Xbox video game—says its high profile actually inhibits its hiring. "The problem has been the higher our profile [the more people think] we want people with pedigrees who have done the big campaign, when it's the opposite."—Kamau High
GOODBY, SILVERSTEIN & PARTNERS
Jon Wolanske, 31, copywriter. Wolanske was a stand-up comedian before being hired in June. He works on HD-DVD and Sprint. Andrew Bancroft, 29, copywriter. Bancroft is a rapper and comedian who goes by the name Jelly Donut. Since coming on board late last year, he has worked on Comcast and Haagen-Daz.
Finding creative talent has become such a challenge these days that Omnicom's Goodby, Silverstein & Partners has taken to looking in some nontraditional places—like the performance space where Bancroft was discovered. Zach Canfield, creative recruiter at Goodby, stumbled upon Wolanske when he was doing stand-up. "It sounds like a ridiculous way to recruit someone, but his [shows] were hilarious and smart," says Canfield. "After seeing his Borat-like performances, I knew he was a great writer and would be incredible with clients."
While the shop also looks for talent in the usual places, like schools and award shows, and by speaking with recruiters, "it's a lot more satisfying to find someone who's a total genius and has never heard of our agency," says Canfield. "I'll never forget [Wolanske's] first day when he was told he'd be working on some interactive banner ads. His response was perfect: 'Um, what does that mean?'"—Kamau High
SAATCHI & SAATCHI, NEW YORK
Jon Chalermwong, senior art director. Chalermwong, who was formerly an art director at Creative Juice\G1 in Bangkok, Thailand, got on Saatchi's radar after winning a gold Lion at Cannes last year for a Bangkok Insurance campaign. Scott Cooney, senior copywriter. Cooney joined the agency last month after three years of freelancing at shops such as BBDO, Bartle Bogle Hegarty and Lowe Brindfors.
There's nothing unusual about the way CCO Tony Granger found his latest creative additions. He based his assessment on their work, with Chalermwong's Bangkok Insurance and Cooney's work on Johnnie Walker at BBH and Virgin Mobile at Fallon striking chords. At Saatchi, the pair works across all accounts.
Granger says that recruitment has become considerably easier for the New York agency since its success in Cannes in recent years, including an Agency of the Year honor in 2006, not to mention its sizable new business wins, such as JC Penney and Wendy's. When he joined the agency three years ago, he notes, "it was me [dreaming] what could be possible. [Now, creatives] want to be here."
Generally Granger relies on a mixture of headhunters, word of mouth, ad schools and a worldwide director of creative talent, Michele Daly, whom worldwide cd Bob Isherwood installed in October 2004 to broaden the network's outreach, for talent leads.
Bottom line, says Granger, "we want people with fire in their eyes."—Andrew McMains
JWT, NEW YORK
Michael Ma, 38, art director. Ma, hired in August, has extensive experience in both graphic design and interactive work having been at IdentityOne, Circle.com and Arnold Interactive. At JWT, Ma works on Sunsilk and Macy's. Brian Carley, 29, art director. A former senior art director and Flash designer at Organic, Carley joined JWT in February and works on the agency's Sunsilk, JetBlue and Benadryl accounts, among others.
Generally, JWT CCO Ty Montague prefers creatives with eclectic backgrounds and a mix of traditional and interactive skills who can solve problems in non-linear ways. However, above all else, Montague looks for a collaborative spirit when interviewing potential hires. "Often it's in the way they talk about their work," he says. "If they use the word 'we' a lot, that's a good sign."
Collaboration is essential to the agency's goal of melding traditional and digital creatives in a single department. It's also needed because the agency sometimes works with outside shops to realize its creative ideas.
"It's so important as we try to sew the Internet and traditional worlds together," Montague explains. "The inability to collaborate is going to really hold people back."—Andrew McMains
Lisa Leone, 40, assistant producer. A director, director of photography and writer, and a first-assistant director on Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut, Leone joined the agency in February. Gabriel Jeffery, 27, interactive art director. Jeffrey, who had worked at Arnold, Boston, on Volkswagen and other accounts, joined davidandgoliath in March.
Creative-content expansion and the blurring lines between creative and media govern hiring decisions, according to agency principal David Angelo. "The need for big thinking is more crucial than ever," he says. "We challenge everyone to look at things differently and that includes how we go about finding fresh creative talent." Angelo says the agency has been actively pursuing talent—including directors, screenwriters, designers and inventors—within multiple media disciplines.
"This ignites another layer of fresh thinking at the agency and encourages everyone to believe that there's more than one way to look at things," he explains. "Gone are the days when ideas only come from art directors and copywriters."
Jeffrey, says Angelo, created the Web site grouphug.us, where people can confess, anonymously about anything, and "it got 2 million hits in the first two weeks." Leone, says Angelo, who praises her 2005 documentary on the 1980s hip-hop fashion scene, Just for Kicks, "brings a nontraditional agency position that is another weapon in our arsenal."—Gregory Solman
Jon Wyville, 42, creative director. Dave Loew, 39, creative director. Veteran creatives Wyville and Loew were both recruited from Young & Rubicam last March with a body of work for Miller Brewing, Sears and Nascar. The two have been promoted to oversee the agency's recently won Buick account.
Leo Burnett CCO John Condon says while a few years ago, he may have been looking for a broad array of creative disciplines, the priority is now on people who are committed to, and passionate about, the work.
While Wyville and Loew were best known for a 2003 Miller Lite spot "Dominoes" that shows a long line of people falling into one another, it wasn't one ad or campaign that drew Condon's attention. Rather, he says, it was the quality of their work over time that impressed him. Such consistency, he felt, would help the agency across its broad portfolio of clients.
"They're brilliant creatives and they're completely and passionately full-on in the kind of [strategic] work we need to do," Condon explains. "You can never have enough of that kind of person."—Aaron Baar
YOUNG & RUBICAM, NEW YORK
Patrick Conlon, junior copywriter. Adolfo Alcala, art director
Ad schools continue to be a fertile font of talent for Young & Rubicam North American CCO Gary Goldsmith, who visits three or four schools at least once a year. Among them is The Creative Circus in Atlanta, where he discovered Conlon and Alcala, a team that now works on Bacardi, Chevron and the United Negro College Fund.
"I'm looking for smart people who have skills that will work in this business," says Goldsmith. "To me, it's conceptual skills and it's executional skills. You've got to have the conceptual skills—the ability to come up with ideas—regardless of what form the work takes." When reviewing books, he looks for versatility and a willingness to experiment. And when meeting candidates, he wants to make sure they've got the "mental toughness to survive in this business. It's not like school. There's a whole lot of rejection at every level."—Andrew McMains
Brad Meyers, 27, associate creative director. Meyers joined the agency in February to work on Taco Bell interactive.
While Meyers had worked at promotional agencies in Texas, it was a YouTube video of his stand-up comedy act that really appealed to COO Tom O'Keefe. His act included riffs on becoming an uncle for the first time, and how he plans to undermine his sister's new parental authority. "All I have to do was look at that and say, 'This guy gets it. He knows how to tell a joke. He knows how to be funny,'" O'Keefe says. "[A YouTube video is] something we didn't have access to in the past."
While access to talent may have changed, O'Keefe says what he's looking for in a creative hire hasn't. Ultimately, he's looking for one piece that pops out and grabs his attention. Because now more than ever, the ideas are more important than the execution, O'Keefe says, "It only takes one thing to get you going and excited about somebody," he says.
When scouting young talent, O'Keefe says he mines several of the traditional places: ad schools, other agencies, etc. But he says he's also begun to look in other areas that haven't been traditionally explored, like the comedy circuit in Chicago (like Second City) and Los Angeles' theatrical community.—Aaron Baar
SAATCHI & SAATCHI, TORRANCE, CALIF.
Mike Barton, 49, creative director. Barton was recruited from Landor Associates in Irvine, Calif., where he worked on Jaguar, Lincoln and Mercury. Andrew Christou, 36, creative director. Christou most recently had been working a director for Moxie Pictures but also has an agency background, having worked on Nike and Microsoft at Wieden + Kennedy, Portland, Ore.
Agency ecd Harvey Marco says he was impressed with Barton's background in set and product design (he was also the co-creator of America's Most Wanted for Fox). It was Marco's discovery of Barton's architectural background that led to a discussion on environmental design. "We talked about not having passed into that area for Toyota, and that we should," says Marco. "It's unexplored territory."
As for Christou, it was the directorial experience that intrigued him." [I liked] that he worked on both sides of the fence as a director and art director," says Marco. "He can tell us what we're like to deal with and that perspective is valuable."
Marco adds that Christou's passion for driving racecars in his spare time made him ideal for working on Toyota's motor sports initiatives.—Gregory Solman