State of the Industry #2 – Talent

By Sam,

aip’s State of the Industry series provides insight into current trends that matter in the digital media industry. 

In this piece, Sam Fenton-Elstone, CEO, Anything is Possible, discusses the changing talent landscape in media and provides insight into how current trends may shape the industry over the next few years.

Draining the agency swamp

While there has always been a relatively high churn rate within the more junior ranks at agencies, this trend is creeping upwards into senior roles. Long-standing, talented people are leaving traditional agencies in droves, often securing brand-side roles or consultancy appointments. Why?

Firstly, many are reassessing what is important in life. Mindfulness, personal expression, and a growing desire to achieve a functional work-life balance don’t just make people happier, they make people more productive as well.  

When agencies aren’t functioning properly, levels of stress and boredom rise. People feel overworked and burnt out – causing many to pursue a career in more flexible environments.

This is a systemic problem derived from the structures, processes, and cultures that exist in traditional agencies. Strict hierarchies and rigid processes can dull culture leaving employees feeling powerless and ineffective.

Reversing the trend

Agencies need to focus less on gimmicky ‘perks’ like foosball and beer Fridays, both of which are ‘nice to haves’, not ‘must haves’. Focussing on empowering people, investing in career development, and delivering great, diverse work makes people feel valued.

These don’t need to be costly exercises.

Career development can be nurtured through mentor programmes which is rewarding for both the mentors and mentees; training can be part of someone’s development plan (i.e. learning to train others); and we can use technology to automate manual, transactional tasks (including elements of media buying) using the time saved to work on strategy – which is also more valuable to clients and aligns the agency’s profit centre with that of the client.

People want to experience new things. It can be win-win for agencies and brands (clients) to offer work placements whereby agency folk spend time alongside brands to better understand their objectives and responsibilities. This knowledge sharing enables the agency to focus more on what matters to their clients, builds partnership and ultimately will drive better performance and client retention.


Although diversity levels within UK media agencies has improved over the last few years, there is still a long way to go. In 2017, 31% of C-suite roles were held by women, compared to just 23% in 2006, according to the IPA. Furthermore, in 2017, 12.9% of individuals in media agencies are from a BAME background, up from 6% in 2007.

Discrepancies exist because of a multitude of factors including: a propensity to hire people similar to existing staff; and a lack of candidates from diverse backgrounds. Legislation prevents outright discrimination but unconscious bias drives uneven recruitment practices.

Everyone should be thinking about neurodiversity – the concept of hiring people with different cognitive skills. In March this year, Direct Line Group marketing director Mark Evans said “The world is changing faster than ever. Specifically for the marketing industry we are being asked to be both left and right brain, but that full spectrum doesn’t exist in one brain”. To overcome neurodiversity issues it is paramount to look at exactly what a job role involves beyond the basics, for example, is a job static? Does it require thinking on the fly? Does it involve client interaction? Does it involve writing? The answers to these questions should dictate the candidate selection and interview process which will open up opportunities to those with dyslexia, for example.

Diversity adds up to more than the sum of its parts: new ideas, different perspectives = better solutions.

Escaping the vortex

At aip we’ve started afresh. We’re proud of our different backgrounds, situations and views of the world. It strengthens our proposition.

We’re fully committed to training programmes that matter, providing real development opportunities for our people and partners, and providing flexible working practices to meet people’s individual needs. This helps us to avoid getting stuck in the same vortex we were in working at media agencies.

Most of the training programmes available to media agency staff is not fit for purpose – it’s outdated, theory-based and time heavy. We hire senior professionals and invest in both core training and non-core development routes. Because aip is free of legacy systems and practices, simple things like client communication, admin, and reporting take us moments, not hours.

We can afford to invest time for development and training in things like artificial intelligence, coding, languages, and cultural studies. Our training commitment extends beyond people’s time at aip with development funding for life. Yes, that’s right, life. For those employees who stay for a minimum period we commit to funding self development of their choice for the rest of their working life. This is managed through our aip alumni programme as we look to build lasting connections with the people that make our business.

These areas support the daily roles we carry out, from automating reporting to designing bespoke dashboards – from creating modelling environments for media planning to target audience analysis, and everything in between. Media is no longer about learning what Adwords is, or comparing CPMs from different ad networks, or negotiating the cost of a 30 second ad in the ad break of Coronation street – it’s about finding ways to understand how to gain valuable attention from consumers, in the most cost-effective way forward.

Flexible working

The final pillar of our approach to talent and culture is flexible working. We know that the best people don’t live in a single town or city, so we don’t have flashy headquarters with 100 desks.

We offer, and encourage: remote working, flexible hours and unlimited holiday. In parallel, we use state-of-the-art collaborative tools so that no matter where or when someone is working they can easily get themselves up-to-speed on the latest activity on the account. Our clients use the same tools so all communication is totally transparent. This allows us to work quickly and effectively.

Our clients love this way of working, many of them offer similar working arrangements so it’s a win-win.

Find out how you can join the team via our careers page.