Bella Patel, global chief talent officer, FCB, shares her views on the latest HR trends and fixes that ad agencies need to make to retain talent.
In February 2022, integrated marketing communications company FCB promoted Bella Patel to the global chief talent officer position. Her current mandate is to foster top talent, help the agency's business and creative resurgence, fuel the company's recruitment process, and work on retention plans.
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For her first market visit, Patel chose India. In an interview with Storyboard18, she says, "India is a critical market for FCB, and the energy of the talent here is infectious." Patel also spoke at length about the latest HR trends, fixes that advertising agencies need to make to retain talent, and more.
Globally, there are several debates and discussions on how the talent pool in advertising is shrinking. What are your observations on the talent in advertising today?
I have a different take on things. I don't think the talent pool is shrinking. They have far more opportunities out there. Today, with brands having their in-house studio, global consultancies having advertising units, and everything in between, the options for candidates are far more stretched. Also, the industry is attracting professionals from varied backgrounds. In my view, there is no scarcity of talent.
I think agencies aren't looking beyond portfolio schools or existing advertising professional pools while expanding teams. Agencies need to put some more effort into finding non-traditional talent. They also need time and energy to help them fit into the business and culture of the industry. Agencies need to do home growing and add structure to how they hire. Agencies need to have programs designed for high schoolers. Pitching advertising as an aspirational professional is essential, just like many other industries do.
Recently, the topic of moonlighting took the spotlight in India. Ad landers are known for moonlighting. It's an open secret. Some networks even encourage employees to take up projects to enhance their skill sets. What's your take on moonlighting?
We don't support moonlighting. If you are working with one agency, it's not right to take up work from another or brands directly. That's not right at all. However, we do support the side hustles that our employees want to take up, which are not the same kind of work they do in the agency. We understand everyone needs a creative outlet, so we encourage employees to enhance their passion points.
What's your view on quiet quitting?
Everything we have gone through in the last two years is somehow branded. We went through 'the great resignation', 'the great regret', and now 'quiet quitting'. I have been asking many people their take on quiet quitting, and everyone had a different interpretation. Largely, what employees are saying and hoping their employers are ready to put in as much effort as they are. It's a great TikTok conversation, but are people talking about solutions? I am not seeing enough of it yet. Also, I think solutions need to be customised. One thing is not to work for everyone.
What new skills are you looking for in people joining FCB? What new roles are you hiring for the most and why?
Across markets, we are looking for people who can drive businesses from both creative and technology lenses. I believe if people have the passion and are up for collaboration, you can groom them and onboard them. Advertising isn't a technical industry. You can learn a lot of aspects of the business on the job. We are looking for people who can drive our performance marketing and e-commerce businesses.
The work culture in advertising doesn't have a good reputation. It mainly depends on the speed at which agencies function these days and the volume of work they take up. Work-life balance is a major miss in many agencies. How do you think agencies can fix this?
I think it's time for reformation. Talent moves in and out of businesses rapidly. I will be transparent, yes, we don't have a well-balanced industry. However, I do see a change in the attitudes of the workforce. Of course, it's in a positive light. They confidently ask for changes in roles, projects, and work styles. As they are doing that, agencies slowly understand the need to reframe certain operations areas for their staff's well-being.
It gives both employees and employers clarity of thought. As an HR professional, here's what I tell employees, find that balance that you need as an individual and work towards it by speaking to your organisation. Companies have understood that it's important to be flexible. I don't think there is a defined solution for this. It will always be a work in progress.
The attrition rate in advertising is high. Is it concerning you?
It's true. It's high time for agencies to look at ways that they can fix this at the earliest. It's important for agencies to teach their teams and help them see the journey with the origination. You need to give them opportunities so that they grow within the company. Talent is moving around because many agencies aren't putting that extra effort into winning their confidence. Talent is ready to give their 100 percent and expects agencies to do the same for them.
What's your take on work-from-home culture in advertising? Does it work well for a creative industry?
I think it depends on the markets. The last two years have been a huge learning curve for all HR professionals. You decide at one moment in time, two days later, two weeks later, or two months later, things evolve, and you have to come up with a new solution for your people. I was one of the network's key members in bringing our employees back to the office.
In North America, we were back in the office last July. We wanted everyone to come together because we wanted to collaborate and move our work quicker. We were seeing creative energies dropping.
When we were siloed because of working from home, we worked in the same team and, on many occasions, with the same set of clients. It works fine in theory but what was lacking was the interaction that we had with our other peers on a day-to-day basis.
That adds a lot of layers to an agency setup. You pick up so many points of view when you are around people, not only about work but also you get a world view of things. They help enhance skill sets you don't even know you have. That's why I firmly believe coming into the office is critical. Interestingly, some agencies are still not in the office. However, I also think having a hybrid model works wonders in certain markets.
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