Casting the Right Hook Into the Digital Talent Pool

We’re an industry of fisherman. This advertising industry is one built on ideas, but funded on the hours spent executing off those ideas. In many ways, advertising (especially digital advertising) has become the antithesis of the Chinese proverb, “Give a man a fish and he eats for a day, teach a man to fish and he eats forever.” But to teach a man to fish, he must first be receptive to learning.

When I consider what this means for digital advertising talent, it’s clear that before we can become greater than our parts, we must change the current culture. There’s little doubt that the present digital environment is challenged by a shortage of talent based on the demand the marketplace has created. Sitting on the agency side, this is further compromised by the opportunities for financial growth that are constantly presented at virtually every turn, which lead to job hopping and a reticence to invest in talent just to see it walk out the door for greater pay elsewhere. This growth, however, comes with a price.

I recently spent time with an individual who, during our conversation, lamented that he didn’t have the right mentor to help with his career growth. The tragedy of the moment was that the individual, who is immensely talented with great potential, doesn’t lack a mentor. He lacks a manager. Therein lies the real challenge with today’s talent crunch – the lack of individuals qualified to be actual managers of people.

In the digital space, we hire for talent, we develop skills to manage clients and execute strategies, but we rarely hire managers who truly understand how to cultivate and inspire those who work for them. Yes, we have team leaders, but that responsibility set and the rewards we place on them are rarely tied to developing our talent to the degree that they will become the next generation of leaders.

In sports, it’s suggested that a great coach is, above all, a leader of men and women. She is someone who can unify and align people behind a common vision. This person is someone who can motivate people to give more of themselves than what they might have otherwise believed possible. Are we doing the same in our digital environment? Are we hiring people because they can plan and execute a media buy alone? Is that enough? Are we not obligated to them and ourselves to expect more because the returns will have tangible value for us in the work product and business growth that can be delivered over time?

When was the last time you heard someone utter the phrase “They taught me everything I know” and it meant more than how to buy something? Digital advertising has the benefit and curse of being a very, very young industry. Yesterday’s planners are just now starting to evolve into strategists and even bleeding into traditional media roles in select cases. However, for the digital side to truly meet the challenges of tomorrow, we need more managers and stronger leaders who understand and prioritize the value of training and investing in employees. Without these managers and leaders, we’ll continue simply fishing for our supper day in and day out, and will miss the opportunities to teach team members to fish so they’re able to eat forever.

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