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Oliver Spalding

You don’t have to be mad to work in an agency...

"Diversity is a hot topic. What is diversity really and do we have enough of it?"

Diversity is a hot topic. Not least because there is a proven link between diversity and creativity, which is vital to our process and therefore thevitality of agencies. There is much soul-searching about diversity in the board-room and equal opportunities in an industry best known for itsmachismo, but what is diversity really and do we have enough of it?

Diversity has to be about more than gender. In 2013 Harvard Business Review identified what it described as 2-D Diversity”, built on collective team culture that embraced two kinds of diversity: inherent (birth traits) and acquired (experience). Businesses that possess 2-D Diversity were 45% likelier to report a growth in market share over the previous year and 70% likelier to report that the firm captured a new market.

In this regard, Ill focus on acquired diversity, posing the question – can agencies draw on enough different experiences to grow from? Global advertising revenue growth rates are forecast to slow to 5.4% by 2019, sustained by digital formats and technologies that remain a troublesome skills gap.

Get in to get out
The agency career path tends to be to start as a fresh-faced graduate and inevitably at some point get out. Maybe to set-up a new agency, go client-side, or be lured to a technology firm. There is little discussion about'getting in to agencies amongst marketing professionals. Agencies nurturediverse skills within their ranks, but are still comparatively insular.

To provide a little context, I moved agency-side in 2008 having worked in digital and CRM for an automotive brand. I wanted to get closer to the creative process. As a marketer I saw this as a natural step and, probably naively, saw less distinction between agency and client people. Lets just say the move agency-side wasnt easy.

Hiring decision makers believed that the risks outweighed the gains. It was an agency founder and entrepreneur who took that risk. Subsequently this topic stayed in the back of my mind; that the divide is not as stark as its made it out to be.

Youre going the wrong way
I wanted a more balanced view from other marketers in Asia Pacific that joined agencies. I spoke to Jon Bradshaw, who was CSO for Droga5 Sydney before setting up his own consultancy, and Mary Perebzak, who ledstrategy at Isobar Sydney. Both of whom worked for over a decade in salesand marketing roles for large MNCs.

What resonated most was that barriers are two-fold, some agencies might want a cookie-cutter CV that has agency after agency listed, equally clients might not value an ex-client sitting agency side, they just wantaccess to great creative. Yet both believed that a client background gave a huge appreciation for the commercial side of the business, and ensuringthe solutions delivered by the agency ladder back to the business problem. Agencies are organised around the services they sell, making it harder to tap into the benefit of such foresight to design solutions.

For marketers, the collaborative economy within agencies is a very powerful acquired experience, the opportunity to think together and create together as Jon described it. Few industries are built around collaboration, despite how connected technologies have transformed the consumer conversation. The biggest opportunity exists within the mid-senior level where a concoction of skills can be at its most potent; arelatively youthful mind-set helps break down barriers.

Agency leaders must know how to deal with the realities of running the business. An article in Ad Week lends credence to this view. "Largely thanks to millennials, agencies are growing less insular and more democratic". Ifclients seek true partnerships they need to experience agencies first-hand.In doing so they might re-think what they ask of agencies and how to foster collaboration across their roster.

I asked whether agency leaders should consider employing more marketing professionals and clients. Mary highlighted that "the landscape of thesolutions we now deliver are changing. Agencies are now answering briefsthat delve into customer experience, service design, platforms, digital. Allof these solutions begin to blur the lines of 'strategy and creative' which means you need people who have hybrid skills."

2016 Is The Year Of The Hybrid Job
According to fast company and that's unlikely to change anytime soon, so agencies need to pay attention.

1. Look past titles to focus on new skills matched by tangible deliverables –then build teams based on chemistry. Chemistry creates collaboration which sets direction and builds culture. Without it diversity becomes a trigger of friction.

2. Remember the T-shaped professional is a connector – ironically bigbusinesses are becoming more T-shaped whilst agencies are becoming more I-shaped, investing into specialisms like creative technology. Agencies that understand internal connections can identify where T-shaped professionals fit.

3. See a variety of roles as a sign of a curious, rather than disloyal, mind –Creativity is mostly drawn from external influences and experiences, not just things we've all seen in the marketing press or established research tools. As innovation gathers pace, the boundaries between client and agency need to be redrawn, with fresh perspective and more movement on both sides. There's no time like the present for a different conversation about diversity and its role in evolving marketing culture. Agencies are a fantastic,vibrant place to work. They offer unrivalled access to different brands and businesses.

The pay is competitive. What's stopping us?

Diversity is a hot topic. Not least because there is a proven link between diversity and creativity, which is vital to our process and therefore thevitality of agencies. There is much soul-searching about diversity in the board-room and equal opportunities in an industry best known for its machismo, but what is diversity really and do we have enough of it?