Agencies – having a nightmare with hiring? We know. Our advice to agency CEOs

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Posted: Feb 2022

I say this a lot. Comms agencies, when it come to hiring people from the industry, stop thinking that your competition is other agencies – that’s old news – the talent is leaving for in-house comms teams. The big corporates, the start-ups, the challenger brands. That’s where comms professionals want to work. Agencies have been losing their appeal for years and now they are scraping around for talent. In our last Salary Guide 2021, we found that only 11% of corporate comms professionals were interested in moving to an agency in their next move, and a whopping 69% would like an in-house role.

So, this means that agencies are working with a very small pool when it comes to finding talent. What can CEOs do about it? The trend is for comms professionals to move away from the variety of agency life believing that ‘the grass is greener’ in an in-house role.

As you can imagine, this is leaving a swathe of small and medium-sized comms agencies that aren’t household names, high and dry when it comes to receiving CVs and hiring. Larger agencies with in-house recruiters often have dedicated professionals to promote their employer brand, their awards and client wins.

So where is this leaving small and medium-sized agencies?

We are hearing from many corporate comms agencies that they are struggling to hire fast enough and there is a huge demand for Account Directors, Managers and Executives. It’s been a double whammy for agencies as they have benefitted from winning more business in 2021 (therefore needing more resource) AND a high turnover as the confidence to move jobs is back. This is leaving gaps all over the place. The combination of the two means they need more resource – and they need it now!

What’s important to these key hires?

When you get to interview a possible Account Director, let me share what’s important to them so you can highlight these:

Hybrid working

Money is a key driver to attract comms professionals moving up the ranks, especially those living and working in London. They are less interested in your pension scheme but will be interested in the holiday allowance. Balance and lifestyle are important. They do want to represent brands that have a sustainable agenda, they enjoy working from home (although not too much as it’s fun being in the office too), and they want to feel that their work has a purpose. If you are offering lots of free fruit, gym discounts, and life insurance – you may want to revisit your benefits package so that it aligns with what the talent now prioritises.

Time to taste some of your own medicine

As agencies and blue-chip brands alike are waking up to the ‘fight over talent’, they are looking at their ‘employer brand proposition’. We know many agency CEOs who put their own PR and marketing at the bottom of their agenda as client work takes over. However, this is what you sell to your clients and there is no time to waste, it’s time for PR 101 for your business!

Perhaps create some video interviews of your colleagues in the office talking about a campaign they enjoyed working on or show the great office space you have, and/or the free bar. This is the time to showcase your business and the benefits of working there. What makes you different? Is your business on Instagram? Perhaps it should be. Does your website reflect your culture or make you look too corporate?

What is going to make your business ‘an employer of choice’? Don’t think that a release to PR Week about your client wins or your latest award is enough. As you know, we don’t take on executive searches at these junior levels, however, we understand the pain to hire. Start shouting about your proposition, as the pool for talent is TINY and these Account Directors are your future leaders.

Sarah Leembruggen

The Works Search: a search consultancy specialising in PR and corporate communications. We have unrivalled matching abilities and known for finding the top 5% performers in the industry - the ones who deliver and make your reputation great. For more advice or market insights, do get in touch with us on 0207 903 9291 or email

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