Archive | July, 2015

When Headhunters get Headhunted

27 Jul

Having been freelance for four months now, I’m getting the hang of recruitment companies. Initially, the sheer number of them was overwhelming. Along with the supergiant Talent Businesses and Major Players are a plethora of other agencies who, I guess, are as good as the work I get from them. And this is not in any way an attack on recruiters, far from it. For the most part, they do a great job, and the smaller ones are often far (far) better at keeping in touch, answering emails and generally busying themselves with keeping us freelancers employed

It is not just that there now seem to be a hundred recruiters where once there were two or three; there has been a far more significant sea change in the world of headhunters. Agencies have wised up to the fact that they pay small fortunes to successful recruitment companies when they hire talent. Agencies hate spending money on things that they think they can do very well themselves, which is why so many agencies that previously only created sales promotion material are now having a go at TV, and why so many ATL agencies now have digital, social, UX and other strings to their bow. We live in an age where we all believe that, if we hire the right people, we can do everything.

If only this were true with headhunting. More and more agencies have brought their headhunters in house, clearly to save a massive buck. They loved these headhunters because they had their ear to the ground. They were good at sniffing out talent. They scattered their nets far and wide and formed excellent relationships with people who they might one day be able to place in agencies. But now, at least to those of us on the outside, it feels like these headhunters have been trapped. They are no longer on the radar.

How do I know this? I don’t know for sure, but it’s just a hunch. Since going freelance, I have been bombarded with headhunters linking in with me. Hello all of you! Thanks for making the effort, I do appreciate it. It suggests that these people are looking for talent to fill gaps in agencies, ie, doing their jobs. In four months, not one in-house recruiter, head of talent, creative producer (or whatever title has been given them) at an agency has made contact. The few that I have unearthed have not accepted my request to link in. It could be that they have looked at my work and thought ‘nah’, but no, LinkedIn logs every visitor, and they haven’t even got this far.

So now we seem to be in a situation where recruitment has been taken in house, but in-house recruiters are either impossible to get hold of, or reluctant to look outside of their existing circle of connections. Why do in-house recruiters not want to expand their network while other headhunters spend every waking hour doing just that? And can you really have your ear to the ground once you are out of an environment where you have access to every agency and every creative, and are now attached to the HR department of a multinational? I’m not sure how this new world order helps agencies do anything other than save money. If saving money is more of a priority than getting in the kind of talent that will win business and make money, then the system is fine. I just can’t help feeling that the system it replaced wasn’t broken.

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I heart JD

17 Jul
Jack Daniels cross track

Jack Daniels cross track

As I mentioned in a recent blog, I have just celebrated 25 years in our great city. And as long as I have been living and working here, there has been one constant. Not so much a red thread running through the timeline as a black and white one. I’m talking about the Jack Daniels adverts on the tube. I have no idea how many I must have seen or when exactly the campaign started. It has survived yuppies, grunge, Britpop and hipster. It has seen the government go from blue to red to blue again. It is recession proof, fashion proof and futureproof. It is not bothered that some brands choose to advertise on Snapchat, or demand approval on Facebook, or have funnelled their fortunes into content. It simply sits there above the underground tracks, timelessly, chewing tobacco and making homely small-town pronouncements, creating a myth that the global mega-brand of Jack Daniels is still pulled together by bearded men in lumberjack shirts stoking charcoal on a fire. And that’s the thing about Jack Daniels. Because its a campaign that predates me working in advertising, I am sucked in by it. I become one hundred per cent consumer. I bask in its warm glow. I properly buy into it.

But there’s more to the Jack Daniels campaign than longevity. There’s a certain genius that allows a brand to stick to its guns. To pick one advertising medium, one tone of voice, one font, one photographic style and stick to it. I have no idea which agency creates the work or which creatives over the years have so criminally been passed over at award ceremonies. But to quote Adam Driver’s character in the recent movie, While We’re Young ‘Let’s just not know’. To be honest, I don’t want to abandon the myth that these ads are written somewhere back in Lynchburg Tennessee by folk wearing ten gallon hats and listening to Elvis. Whoever you are, writers of the Jack Daniels ads on the Tube, I salute you!

Missing the excitement

9 Jul

Fifteen years ago, advertising was incredible. It tingled. It seemed that with the dot com bubble at maximum inflation, everything was possible. And – with that infinity of possibilities – entrepreneurs, TV channels and even advertising caught fire. Dinosaur brands found new energy thanks to a new online opportunity. Everyone and everything lightened up. Seraphs and capital letters disappeared. New companies called Cake and Fish and Soup and Egg sprang up. Soho was electric. It was a boom time for ideas; this clunky thing called the internet that had so far only brought us amazon and ebay was coming into its own. Satellite and cable channels appeared overnight, often faster than it seems that the authorities could regulate them. It genuinely felt, at times, that the monkeys were in charge of the machines, and doing a bloody good job.

Back then, I too got caught up in the beautiful mayhem. I launched a website with a music exec, a primary school teacher and a fellow ad creative called idea-a-day.com, giving business ideas away free every day. I put a TV show on an obscure satellite channel and launched the TV careers of Justin Lee Collins and Alan Carr. I started my own agency and shared office space with Karmarama in Chalk Farm when they were just 8 people sitting round a ping pong table having meetings with IKEA. I even got caught up in rock and roll and spent my honeymoon on a tour bus with hair-metallers, the Darkness, touring the southwestern USA. Life was so unbelievably exciting. Forget New York, London was the city where dreams were made of.

For a while, I thought it was an age thing, but that wasn’t it. I was 36. It isn’t age, or parenthood, or property ownership that has made me feel that our city is less exciting. It just feels like we have all ridden a fantastic wave and we’re all asking: ‘what next?’ All we have now is an internet that seems to be entering middle age. Social media has proven to be a hollow promise with brands tweeting into a vortex and corporate Facebook pages broadcasting to no one. Even the energy in some of the most creative corners of our city has lulled. Hipster is an empty shell offering nothing of use. Where are the entrepreneurs and the visceral energy that drove the napsters and the easyJets and the last minutes? Where are the risk takers? The inventors? The makers?

I miss 2000’s London. Right now, we’re treading water. Working hard, making a buck, riding the tube home. My hope is that I keep floating long enough for the next thrilling, terrifying, all consuming wave to take me somewhere properly exhilarating, and to see what ideas I can have when I get there.