Talent Tactics: Where Do You Find Good People?

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:


New Hire

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.

Criteria 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


New hires

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 Häagen-Daz.

Criteria 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?'”—KHSAATCHI & SAATCHI, NEW YORK

New hires

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.

Criteria 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


New hires

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.

Criteria 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.”—AM


New hires

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.

Criteria 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


New hires

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.

Criteria Leo Burnett CCO John Condon says while a few years ago, he might 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