How to Hire From the Internet

Whenever I go to any sort of conference or gathering of industry types, I spend a significant amount of time talking about the difference between the “traditional” agency model and interactive shops. New vs. old. It’s like a bad joke sometimes, but I do really care about those conversations and about how the industry approaches its evolution.

There’s a lot of change going on. It’s increasingly critical that you keep up with the times. Stay fresh. Keep adapting.

There are tons of interesting things to think about, but let’s confine this to the talent. As an agency manager, you have to fundamentally change what sorts of employees you’re looking for. Goals and tactics have changed. For example, if your tactic previously was a bold, interruptive TV ad, you might have needed creative folk with confident egos who feel OK about interrupting people and doing their best to entertain them for exactly one minute. They would refine this skill and become amazing at it. As a result, you’d win many clients and awards, get rich and buy a boat. And a motorcycle. And put that motorcycle on your boat and do some sick tricks into a lake.

Now, of course, you can’t be interruptive all the time. You have to be useful, interesting, kind, understanding and, most importantly, engaging. You have to create advertising that your audience actually wants to seek out.

So now that boat-and-cycle dream is in jeopardy because interrupting is just one of many strategies you need to do properly. This has always been the case, of course — we have media planners and engagement specialists and events and promotions and direct people. There was always more than the 60-second spot. I’m simplifying here. But there’s certainly no doubt that you’re going to need new people with new skills. And they’ll need to know about more than Web sites and banner ads. The proper solution for your brand is now in the realm of anything on the Internet. Games. Viral marketing. Answering consumer complaints on Twitter. Measuring social-media buzz. Traffic generation. Improving the experience of a Web store. Global choose-your-own-adventure games involving penguins.

A profession that formerly had a pretty tidy skill set has seen a radical sea change in the sort of staff needed. You have to know how to find people and hire them, and you have to have the sort of company where they would like to work. This is not easy, particularly if you’re working at anything resembling an old-fashioned ad agency. Would those people want to work at your place? Sometimes money is not enough motivation. There’s an Internet culture lifestyle that’s insanely important. More than anything, there’s a real spirit in the online world — both on the audience and creative sides — of freedom and honesty. And, of course, instead of competing against Crispin or Goodby for talent, you’re competing against places where those Internet nerds want to work: Google, Apple and the siren song of Bay Area startups.

And you thought it was hard before.

Your new target employee’s motivations are different than everyone else’s in advertising. Many don’t care if they win Clios. They don’t care about Cannes, they’ve never heard of MediaVest or Carat, and most don’t know who David Ogilvy was. They do know what 37signals is, though, and they care very much about what’s going on at Turbine or with Jeff Bezos’ investments.

There’s some overlap, of course — Apple, YouTube, Google and whatnot — but the point is these people are coming at things from the point of view of the Internet.