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The war for talent versus procurement of design

When the creative talent crunch comes up against procurement pressures, the carnage hurts everyone. Design Bridge’s Tom Gilbert, Executive Creative Director at Shanghai, has ideas on how agencies can defend themselves—and future generations.

The creative industry is experiencing two trends that fundamentally work against each other; the war for talent and the pressure of procurements teams to lower costs.

Driven by fierce competition and a shortage of experienced individuals, the search for new creatives is a daily battle and a never-ending quest. This limited talent pool is consequently able to ask for higher salaries, better employee benefits and more of a work-life balance. Paradoxically to this, multinationals continue to invest in procurement teams that will help lower the cost of creative services and speed up the process. These two things obviously erode profit margins but most importantly, they can compromise creative quality and impact the time given to a project. Longer-term, this conflict means we are losing the time that is needed to invest in the next generation of creative talent, which means there is no foreseeable end to the talent shortage.

Recently, within a multi-agency pitch briefing meeting, after briefing us, the procurement team asked if we had any questions. I asked ‘How can you justify this being a free creative pitch?’ Their response was ‘We don’t need your work yet, we just need your ideas’.

Initially, this shocked me, but after some contemplation I realised it’s partly our fault we’re hearing this response. We’re not doing enough to communicate who we are, what we do, how we do it and the value our work brings to companies.

So, what might we do as a creative industry to help with these issues?

1. Investment in internal and external education
Client partners’ procurement teams need to understand our process. They need to understand the investment we, as a business, need to make to achieve the creative standards that we create for them. We also need to show that it’s not just about investment in a current project, but also in the next generation of talent. We must put the time and energy into training and supporting those who are learning, so that there is sufficient future talent. At Design Bridge we provide several training courses for our long-term clients, and we see immediate improvements in communication, project efficiency and creative quality. Our personal-development programs and intern program ensure we continue to invest in our teams to help us, and the industry, grow.

2. Practice what we preach
We help our clients’ brands grow through emotionally engaging, distinctive, and consistent design. Consistency is also essential for their value perception, to ensure they retain their market positioning. As agencies, when it comes to our own value perception, we don’t always apply the same logic.

To secure our future, we must:

• Continuously focus on relationship-building to remain emotionally engaged and connected with our clients
• Evolve and think about how we’re distinctive, offering something different from our closest competitors
• Consider procurement teams as part of our consumer target audience. As such we need to make sure their value perception of our brand is reaffirmed and maintained.

You’re only as strong as your weakest link. Any inconsistencies in quality will be used to justify a decrease in value. You need to uphold your own brand perception.

Finally, if your relationship is strong, you’re distinctive in your competitive set, and you have a consistently strong value perception, be confident in your service and don’t compromise on its worth. Lack of confidence is prolific in our industry. We each undercut one another. If we were collectively more confident in ourselves, then there would be an increase in the overall industry value perception of our work and the importance it plays in achieving and maintaining our clients’ success.

3. Open dialogue
These topics are discussed a lot behind closed doors. We don’t share publicly, because we want to keep our competitive edge and keep our client partners’ procurement teams happy. We don’t want to compromise our relationships. But what if we spoke openly and acted more as a collective or union of creative agencies? What if those of us who have the same interests at heart—producing the best quality creative work and investing in the next generation of talent—joined forces and supported one another?

My suggestion is that if we can keep the dialogue open and work together with procurement teams, we can find mutually beneficial solutions. Without us coming together, I believe we will be continuously asked to undersell ourselves. By bringing together our values, morals and passions, we can protect and support our industry. We can protect the generations to come and ensure we continue to deliver outstanding work to our clients. Whilst overheads might be a procurement team’s primary focus, we’re designers, creatives; it’s our job to make sure our clients understand what brilliant design looks like and what its value is.

The original article can be found on Campaign Asia.

by Amanda Li

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