In February 2022, integrated marketing communications company FCB promoted Bella Patel to the position of global chief talent officer. Her current mandate is to foster top talent that is helping the agency’s business and creative resurgence, fuel the company’s recruitment process, and work on retention plans. 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 actually shrinking. They have far more opportunities out there. Today, with brands having their own 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.
What I think is, 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. It is important for agencies to do home growing and add structure to the way they hire. Agencies need to have programs designed for high schoolers. It is important to pitch advertising as an aspirational professional, 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. In fact, 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 one or brands directly. That’s not right at all. However, what we do support is the side-hustles that our employees want to take up which are not the same kind of work they do in the agency. We do understand everyone needs a creative outlet, so we totally encourage employees to enhance their passion points.
What’s your view on quiet quitting?
Everything that 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 a lot of people their take on quiet quitting and everyone had a different interpretation. Largely, what employees are saying and hoping that their employers are ready to put in as much effort as they are. It’s a great TikTok conversation to have 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.
We don’t support moonlighting. That’s not right at all. However, what we do support is the side-hustles that our employees want to take up which are not the same kind of work they do in the agency.
What are the new skills that you are looking for in people joining FCB? What are the new roles that you are 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. Currently, we are looking for people who can drive our performance marketing and e-commerce businesses.
Everyone has a different interpretation on quiet quitting. Largely, what employees are saying and hoping that their employers are ready to put in as much effort as they are. It’s a great TikTok conversation to have but are people talking about solutions?
The work culture in advertising doesn’t really have a good reputation. It’s mainly to do with 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 the 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 are slowly understanding the need to reframe certain areas of their operations for the well-being of their staff. It is giving 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.
Agencies need to do home-growing and add structure to the way they hire. They need to have programs designed for high schoolers. It is important to pitch advertising as an aspirational professional, just like many other industries do.
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 a lot of agencies aren’t putting that extra effort to win their confidence. Talent is ready to give their 100 percent and expect agencies to do the same for them.
On work-life balance: It’s time for reformation. Talent moves in and out of the businesses rapidly. We don't have a well-balanced industry. However, I do see a change in the attitudes of the workforce.
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 the HR professionals out there. You make a decision at one moment of time, two days later, two weeks later, or two months later things just evolve and you have to come up with a new solution for your people. I was one of the key members of the network to bring our employees back to the office. In North America, we were back in the office last July. The reason we wanted everyone to come together was that we wanted to collaborate and move our work quicker. We were seeing creative energies dropping.
When we were siloed because of work from home, we were working in the same team, and on a lot of occasions with the same set of clients. It works fine in theory but what was lacking is 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 to enhance skill sets that you don't even know you have. That’s why I strongly believe coming into office is critical. It is interesting to see some of the agencies are still not in office. However, I also think having a hybrid model works wonders too in certain markets.