Grace Blue's Annual Migration Report shows a renewed shift towards a more fluid talent exchange

The migration of agency talent away from their traditional roots has speeded up over the past three years, which makes informed recruitment strategies more important than ever.

Recruitment has always been a key component of operational strategy, but now with everyone looking at a wider pool of top tier candidates, establishing the right talent plan is key to determining if a company is where people want to work.

When Grace Blue launched its very first annual The Migration Report (WHEN?) we undertook a study on how agency talent was migrating to in-house brand roles in the UK market. The review was based on an analysis of 100 top UK advertisers and showed that up to 40% have senior-level marketing talent with an agency background.

In Asia-Pacific, the latest Migration Report shows that the shift has gained sufficient momentum that both agencies and clients are feeling the impact in workforce composition and dynamics.

The reasons for this change

At a macro level, creativity has never been more important at boardroom level.

The ability to think in a whole-brain way and execute in a right brain format is something that eludes many large companies. And yet it is the single thing they lament not having.

Its not a new concept, but for those who demand a fresh look at winning customers, building brands and growing businesses there has never been a better time to shop a vibrant market full of bright, talented, experienced agency folk trained in the dark arts of hard work, focus, branding, strategy and – critically – creative delivery. The agency world is doing its best to keep pace with the world outside and their short-term solution is to cut costs to maintain margin.

Some of the world’s most successful marketers started life in an advertising agency. Let’s have a look at five key themes driving this shift

1) In-breeding doesn’t work

To adapt to an increasingly purpose-driven world, recruitment and human resource strategies of both agencies and clients need to go through as much of a transformation as the digital revolution demanded of how we did business at the beginning of the new millennium.

Astute leaders will understand that trying to fix gaps in resource by offering temporary or superficial benefits is not going to stop talent leaving for greener pastures.

Often, leaders loathe making significant ‘step hires’ choosing instead to “hire from within” or from their own industry.

2) Work/life balance is a real thing

It is the result of macro shifts in the economy and has affected how people think of themselves and how they want to engage with the world at large through work.

In many ways, everyone is moving towards a more ‘millennial attitude’ to work and how they fit in/how it suits them.

Knowing how to hire in this migration wave provides companies with the ability to protect themselves from the threat of diminishing capability.

For people switching early in their careers, the often highlighted desire for “better work-life balance” is only part of the story for why agency people are choosing to cross over to corporate life.

We should not overlook talent that is also moving to start-up enterprises; a place that promises even less stability or predictability but conversely, more excitement, energy and motivation.

3) Corporate entrepreneurialism works

The paradox of employment today is that we require people to be part of something larger and yet the market tends to reward those who have an individual vision.

This is a topic that has been discussed at length, particularly in the context of hiring and managing younger employees who want the ability to express their uniqueness and identity. However, this mindset is not just of one generation, age, life stage or industry but of global culture.

More people are making decisions about future employment based on values, even at the cost of financial upside. A company’s ethics and transparency are often as important as an actual job description in attracting new hires and retaining key talent.

4) You are who you hire

Babak Nivi, the co-founder of AngelList describes our Entrepreneurial Age as one that “awards hunters, not settlers.”

Hunters are people who enjoy being on the move, people who look for opportunities and do what it takes to bring home the day’s meal. These characteristics broadly describe the majority of talent migrants. They are ambitious and focused. Mindset-over-age.

Amazon is a hunter employer. So are Tencent, Netflix, Uniqlo and Grab, all of whom are very happy to acquire square pegs and maverick thinkers. Of course, they need the operators and the system engineers but machines are nothing without the right drivers.

Settlers are the stalwart individuals who have long tenures and are ready to nurture a project or a team for five or more years. Here the rewards for a free-er future life outweigh the immediate pain points of a corporate matrix.

This analogy is important in understanding the talent migration because who we hire is a reflection of what we want our companies to be. It’s part of the marketing of a company.

5) Secure ‘corridors of freedom’

Ultimately, depending on your career stage, most employment decisions on the part of the employee are driven by the desire for security, whether it is fulfilled immediately or projected in the future.

The marketing industry has not had the best reputation for being the most reliable economy to work in, and in an environment of uncertainty, talent with specialised skills will gravitate towards the places that they believe offer more stability.

As a result of ongoing upheaval in the ecosystem, agencies and their hiring budgets – when they aren’t frozen – are shrinking. They are cutting at the top to maintain at the bottom and there is a gradual erosion of quality on a daily basis, and trust longer-term.

As if to underline these findings, Grace Blue recently had a finance client who asked for “Maverick, Blue Ocean candidates” that are nothing to do with their industry. Operational skills mixed with a broader view of the world. Whole-brain thinkers.

Whilst this particular is a refreshing eye opener today, it is likely that we will be seeing many more of these in the future.

Jean-Michel Wu is APAC CEO and David Mayo is a non-executive director at Grace Blue.