Analysis: Not all doom and gloom as ad agencies in SG look to hire for tomorrow

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many companies in the marketing and advertising industry to take cost-cutting measures. These include staff cuts, pay cuts, and furloughs. According to a Forrester report in June, agencies in the United States were poised to lose 35,167 jobs in 2020 and another 16,758 in 2021. Ad agencies made up over half of all reported agency layoffs, with digital and media agencies representing less than a quarter due to their accelerated importance.The severity of layoffs is greater within ad agencies, averaging 15% of staff versus 7% at digital and media agencies.

Despite the glum outlook however, there are some beacons of hope across the industry. In a recent report by Kelly Services Singapore and SkillsFuture Singapore, digital skills are in high demand in the marketing industry this year. Digital marketing executives, digital marketing managers, and digital marketing specialists were jobs that are most sought after, along with campaign managers and account managers. Additionally, digital marketing ranks second in the list of top skills sought after in the industry, following sales. Other skills that are in high demand include marketing, account management, customer service, data analytics, data management, delivery optimisation, eCommerce campaign management, and social media management.  

In a conversation with Marketing, S4 Capital which has MediaMonks and MightyHive under its umbrella, told Marketing that it is currently looking to hire over 60 positions across Asia Pacific. According to Michel de Rijk, CEO, Asia Pacific, S4 Capital, the network is looking to hire talents across different verticals, including creative, business development, account management, and production. When asked why S4 feels confident in hiring during such an uncertain period, de Rijk said it has been experiencing good growth with a double-digit increase in its global business and more than 100% increase in its Asia Pacific business. The network has also launched its Japan, Korea, and Australia offices, putting it in a comfortable position to hire talent. It also opened a second office in Singapore in Q1 of 2020. He added that the company expects the growth trajectory to go well into 2021.

Local creative agency GOODSTUPH is also looking to hiring across the board. Although it did not specify which positions it is looking to hire, founder Pat Law told Marketing that as much as the agency has certain roles in mind to fill, it will not rule out creating new roles, should a stellar of a talent come its way. Law said the hiring process is to ensure that the agency constantly evolves to be able to provide clients with new offerings. She said:

I can’t say I’m confident and comfortable in hiring as much I can say I think it’s scary to not evolve as an agency.

Comparing it to running a restaurant, Law added, “Your menu is determined by the potential and limitation of the people you have in the kitchen. It’s easy to create the ‘Menu of Today’ your customers are used to, based on what your people are capable of. It’s harder to try to create the ‘Menu of Tomorrow’, based on the talent that you currently do not have, without knowing if your customers will bite. The former provides supply to demand, the latter creates demand."

Meanwhile, Avery Akkineni, head of VaynerMedia APAC, also said the agency has several positions currently open as well. It is looking to hire talents such as social listening analyst, video editor, senior copywriter, account manager, social strategist, and 3D motion designer. VaynerMedia APAC is currently about 80 strong, and its largest partners are in the FMCG, financial service, and tech sectors.

Challenges persist

While it seems like a good time for agencies looking for fresh hires given the availability of talent in the market, challenges still persist. According to Akkineni, VaynerMedia APAC has has seen “a massive surge” in applicants over the past few months, but most of it is in senior positions.

Similarly, Law said the response to its recent recruitment exercise has been overwhelming. The agency has received easily five times more of the volume of CVs it would have received pre-COVID-19. However, challenges still persist even with the increased pool of talent. Law told Marketing that finding talent is one thing, but finding good talent is another. There are many other aspects that GOODSTUPH looks for besides technical capabilities.

“It’s always a balance between credibility and character,” Law said, adding that the agency could hire an award-winning creative, but if the person is not a team player, then it will be a problem. “Culture fit matters too. And often or not, that cannot be deduced in a single interview session,” Law added.

The specialisation in the jobs required by the agencies also poses a challenge, even for recruiters. Speaking to Marketing, Jimmy Yar, founder of executive search firm The Talent Detective, said that although there has been an uplift in terms of talents requests over the last few weeks as compared to Q1 and Q2, it is harder to judge whether a talent is suitable for a specialist role even if their title, past roles and CV all seems to suggest that they do.

“Recruiters now needs an even deeper level of understanding of the roles being briefed,” Yar said. He brought up an example when it comes to searching for user-experience (UX) related roles. While there are some agencies where the roles are very clearly demarcated with different talents working on the different aspects (such as UX Research, UX Design, UI design), there are also some agencies where the talent is expected to be able to be able to handle the full end-to-end scope.

“Knowing these nuances and immersing yourself to understand these a little deeper is helpful in finding the right fit for both parties,” Yar added.

Another challenge that recruiters may face is finding subject matter experts who can be a strong team player and have the right set of soft skills as well. According to Yar, although hiring managers are placing bigger emphasis on the technical competencies of the candidate, the agency scene is still a people’s industry which calls for a high level of collaboration. Finding candidates that fulfil both criteria may be tricky. "More than ever, our role now requires us to find unicorns on a daily basis," he said.

VaynerMedia APAC's Akkineni echoes the importance of finding integrated marketers. She added that the agency looks for individuals who are "unicorns" across creative, media, strategy, and production. The agency also looks for individuals with enough "hustle, heart and hard skills". When asked which roles are the toughest to fill, Akkineni said specialised language hires (especially Japanese or Korean speaking professionals) are often challenging to fill in Singapore, which is a regional hub for many major brand advertisers. 

"Language skills are always a massive plus when hiring for regional clients, but can be challenging to find locally in Singapore, especially when overlaid with very specific skill sets such as social listening or copywriting," Akkineni added.

Adding on to the conversation, S4 Capital's de Rijk said the toughest jobs to fill is out-of-the-box-thinking creatives. It is difficult to find talents who are multi-disciplinary creatives who are also digital professionals that understand digital campaigns in the aspects of augmented reality, virtual reality, and experiential marketing. Besides that, he said notice periods are also one of the prominent challenges when hiring.  Adding to that, de Rijk said good leadership is also hard to find especially when it comes to hiring people who have years of experience and a track record as good leaders, yet that are not married in their ways. He added:

The industry is changing faster than ever, so we need leaders that can pivot and think in terms of solutions.

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