This Former Ogilvy and Fallon Exec Is Starting a Recruiting Practice in Los Angeles

Mandana Mellano's new boutique firm focuses on tech and entertainment

Mandana Mellano
"The goal of Peony is also to connect the cross-functional elements between technology, advertising and entertainment," said Mellano. Peony

Former Ogilvy and Fallon executive Mandana Mellano is opening a boutique talent and recruiting practice in Los Angeles. To take on traditional recruiting in the current age of marketing disruption, Peony will focus less on recruiting for scale or the current practices in serving C-level talent.

“We can’t continue to hire talent in silos for roles that have not evolved in decades and then expect integration and modernization in return,” said Mellano, who currently serves as a vice president at Thinknear by Telenav.

At its heart, the agency places a premium on assisting agencies, marketers and technology companies in recruiting and retaining talent in more cross-functional roles. Additionally, Mellano seeks to modernize the recruiting process by focusing on matchmaking that finds common ground through an in-depth assessment process that places more of a premium on cultural matches.

“There are nuances involved when assessing and developing talent that is only attainable when you have built teams, managed day-to-day business and operated in functional roles,” explained Mellano, who founded the company alongside a team of industry researchers and a diverse group of senior advisors in leadership roles at companies including the Wall Street Journal, Criteo and University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication.

Adweek caught up with Mellano to learn more about her goals for the practice.

Adweek: Why did you decide that it was time to start a consultancy?
Mellano: There’s both a personal and a professional reason. Professionally, for years, many industry friends and I have experienced and shared our frustration with talent recruitment and retention. It’s been such a huge pain point, and we felt like it’s only getting worse. Along the way, I paid very close attention to what’s working, what’s not working, and realized that there was this gap in both practice and culture of recruiting.

There are highbrow executive search firms that are primarily focused on C-suite corporate roles. And then on the other side of the spectrum, you have this super dirty, salesy headhunting business. And in the middle, we have this hodgepodge of recruiters who know very little about the nuances and challenges of the agency world from within, particularly when we talk about cross-functional competencies in our world today.

I’ve been a client and a candidate, and, frankly, that experience is broken on both ends. I think that really has been the catalyst for me to believe that this is the right time now to do something to fill that gap.

You have a deep agency background. Where will you focus your recruiting efforts?
I’ve grown up on the agency side, and I think I’m closest to it, but the goal of Peony is also to connect the cross-functional elements between technology, advertising and entertainment. Our sweet spot is director level and up, the up-and-coming leaders in this world.

Other than agencies, tech—and, specifically, ad tech—will be a significant portion of what we do. Studios will be another bucket, focused on particular roles within their marketing communications, analytics and data.

Also, we won’t advertise jobs or post publicly. Nor will we list our clients publicly. It’s all absolutely confidential, and I think that is huge with more senior people who might feel uncomfortable with their names, titles and resumes floating around.

What did you learn in your agency background that is going to inform your decision making as you build the business?
Job descriptions are not permanent. I think a commitment to revisiting and rewriting some of those job descriptions is a critical first step for agencies. I’ve seen many job descriptions that haven’t been touched in many years or that haven’t even been written by the hiring team.

Another part is not confusing the cultural fit based on the potential and competencies that you’re looking for. On the agency side, we meet someone, they check five of the boxes that we have on the job description, and they seem like they’re a good fit. We hire not knowing the real motivation triggers and what is it that is going to make this the perfect match. I think you have to be in the business to kind of understand those nuances.

What do you believe are the most significant issues in talent today?
I think the biggest problem that I see as I describe it is retrofitting candidates into job descriptions. The entire talent search process revolves around skill sets regardless of two motivations: human values and potential. Another problem is the model itself. Traditional talent hunters are on a race against the clock and their competitors to find a candidate versus the right candidate. It’s a quantity game which ends up being very costly to companies and agencies.

What are some skills that you believe helps talent land in the right place?
[Roles like] CX, UX and UI. They’ve all been a bit closer organically to the world of communication. Additionally, understanding product design and how platforms are built. That’s been a massive advantage for agencies in particular that have been able to crack that code. And that really requires expertise from development all the way to creating the tech stacks and the like.

The other thing is also the data aspect that is very closely aligned with technology, and I think having data scientists, data analysts and experts who can bring that balance of art and science is huge, not just for agencies, but for technology clients as well.

@zanger Doug Zanger is a senior editor, agencies at Adweek, focusing on creativity and agencies.