‘Our Agency Wants You’

Simon Quarendon | July 13, 2021


“Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success.”

Supposedly written by Victorian explorer Ernest Shackleton and featured in the The Times in late 1913, the above advertisement and was used to recruit crew members for his expedition to the South Pole on the ship, Endurance.

As an example of peerless copywriting that ‘resonated’ with its audience, it was apparently effective too, as some 5,000 men applied to go on the trip.

Kitchener’s famous poster advertisement, ‘Your Country Wants You’, was equally effective in persuading thousands of young men to volunteer for service in the First World War.

Brand experts will no doubt recognise both these advertisements for what they were; an appeal to a ‘higher order’ that took the readers way beyond their perhaps, humdrum lives in Edwardian Britain.

Today’s recruitment advertisements would need to be vastly different to have the same effect on its audience.

But recruiters looking to find agency staff in an ever-tightening market will have to run ads appealing to an equally higher order if they are to attract the right calibre of staff. For three reasons.

Firstly, any agency head will tell you how hard it is to find good people right now. This is definitely not an employers market and with wage inflation creeping up, good staff can afford to be doubly choosy about who they work for.

Secondly, the last two years of enforced solitude has sparked a great deal of thinking – generally – about the meaning of work.

Would be employers are finding that questions raised at interviews now are very different from those asked before. ‘Where can I work from?’ has replaced ‘where’s the nearest gym?’. Soon it might be, “do you offer a four-day week?”.

Thirdly, millennials, in particular, are changing their attitudes towards business in general. Deloitte’s ‘Global Millennial Survey’ showed a significant drop in numbers who agreed with the statement ‘businesses have a very positive /fairly positive impact on the wider society’ from a high point of 76% in 2017 to less than half (47%) in 2021 just four years later.

Expect that figure to decline further as they – rightly – punish greedy companies who displayed what they perceive to be unethical behaviour during the Pandemic.

Frankly, unless a company can demonstrate that they are committed to an appropriate set of values or ethics then they are toast.

Which brings me back to the need to appeal to a higher order in the recruitment process.

Let’s consider an account manager (everyone needs account managers!), who has two job offers from competing agencies on the table.

The salaries on offer will no doubt be directly comparable, as will the wider employment benefits.

Both agencies will offer the candidate an opportunity to work on interesting clients and will claim to have a fun but hard-working culture and office atmosphere.

Both will have to offer flexible working if they’re to have a chance.

Research by the would-be staff member on the Glassdoor website will (hopefully!) show neither agency employs nasty bosses, and their social media feeds will suggest they don’t take themselves too seriously.

So how will he or she choose which agency to join? What criteria will they use to make what could be considered a pretty major decision in their lives?

I’d argue that so-called ‘soft’ factors will be used to make the hard decision. Such as, ‘does this agency’s brand values align with my own?’ ‘Does its purpose or mission chime with my view of life?’ ‘Are its values embedded in its DNA or are they just window dressing?’ And ‘can it prove all these things through its actions?’.

Selbey Anderson’s new purpose is, “We exist to find and unlock hidden value in people, agencies and brands”. Only time will tell if our copywriters are as successful as Shackleton and Kitchener in persuading staff to sign up.