Agencies are straining to recruit and retain data-driven talent.
Prospects with a strong background in statistical analysis and data mining – the second most popular skill on LinkedIn as of January – aren’t necessarily looking to work at a media agency. And it’s hard for agencies to retain employees due to a business culture that focuses on extracting the biggest margin possible.
A person with an analytics background wouldn’t traditionally look for a career at a media agency. Often, the biggest draw is the ability to apply data analysis to impact a client’s business, said Rolf Olsen, chief data officer at Mindshare.
The key, as Olsen discovered, is making sure prospects are aware of the agency world as early as possible. Three years ago, Mindshare started an internship program called Data Bytes, which Olsen leads. During its latest run, more than two thousand people applied for 27 spots in Data Bytes. Most Data Bytes interns are still in school, but Mindshare hired two as full-time employees and extended offers to three more after they graduate.
“We knew we needed to do things like this to attract the best possible talent across a broad range of skills, like science, economics, engineering, operational research and data visualization,” Olsen said.
Acquiring talent is difficult, but retaining it is another challenge.
The turnover rate for junior agency employees is roughly 25%-30% per year, according to Mike Baker, CEO of DSP DataXu. Mindshare emphasizes career pathing by letting junior-level employees try out different skills across teams. That’s different from most agencies, where employees are assigned to specific roles and accounts.
“We focus on making sure people understand all the things people do within our organization,” Olsen said. “We allow people to hand-raise and say, ‘I’m interested to learn X, Y and Z.’”
Embracing the curiosities of young talent works for Mindshare – the agency has doubled its marketing sciences team since 2013 to 120 people.
Of course, in Mindshare’s case it’s letting young employees decide where they want to go. By contrast, retrofitting senior employees into new roles doesn’t always sit well.
Publicis Groupe, for example, suffered a talent exodus after it disaggregated its trading desk, VivaKi, and attempted to integrate its former employees into its media agencies.