THE HARD THING ABOUT HIRING
By Ashley Nowicki - Director of Talent, Working Not Working
“Take care of the people, the products, and the profits—in that order” – Ben Horowitz
There are two things that are inherently true about Ben Horowitz. Number one, he has phenomenal taste in hip hop music. Number two, every person who has ever set out to build a team or a business should read his book, “The Hard Thing About Hard Things”.
Horowitz doesn’t give the audience some bullshit guide on becoming successful, claiming that hard work is all it takes or that a little bit of luck goes a long way. He talks about what it’s actually like to be down in the trenches, (practically) naked, and what to prioritize when you’re completely surrounded by failing circumstances.
There is one particular theme that is carried throughout the book, more subtle in some places than in others. Horowitz consistently brings his experiences back to the people around him, to his trusted colleagues and to the hiring process. The book goes on to say that, “taking care of the people is the most difficult of [the people, the products and the profits] by far but if you don’t do it, the other two won’t matter."
Ten years ago, it felt like advertising was in its prime, at least in its digital prime. The internet was ammo for creative ideation across brands, services and platforms with sky-high profits to be made. From a recruiting standpoint, it was like the wild west. A handful of the best ad agencies working on the most daring, innovative and sexy brands kicked their feet up on the table and expected people to do whatever it took to get noticed by the agency. AND IT WORKED. Ad students, junior creatives and even those with years of industry experience slaved away, coming up with bat-shit-crazy ways to get noticed to prove they could come up with more bat-shit-crazy ideas for clients.
But then around 2010, the other two things that Horowitz addresses, the product and the profit, started shifting at ad agencies. Brands recognized that they could talk about themselves and their products just as well or even better than their agencies could. Creatives no longer wanted to sacrifice their lives to push work they didn’t believe in. They were sick of being bait-and-switched, receiving empty promises to work on this client or build that team. To put it simply, creatives grew tired of not being taken care of. They realized they weren’t number one next to product and profit so they opted for a different path.
Some creatives started working in-house for companies that still placed high value on branding and storytelling; they just realized they could do it themselves with a few strong creative partners (and without a lot of external overhead). As the death of AOR continued, other creatives went to production companies where they could stay closer to creation but also to ideation, as more in-house branding teams collaborated directly with production houses to bring ideas to life. Creatives have also started their own studios and some have committed themselves to the freelance lifestyle. These paths all allow creatives to sit on a different side of the table than they're used to. They work with the vendor or have become the vendor. These options also give creatives the freedom to call their own shots as they work on a project-by-project basis, deciding which clients or projects they take on and when.
The professional landscape for the best creatives is bigger and stronger than ever. Ad agencies used to only compete against other ad agencies for the best talent. Now, agencies are up against their own clients and vendors for that same talent. Companies are also up against the entrepreneurial spirit and the freedom of choice: where to work, what to work on and when to take a three month vacation.
Creatives now have their feet up on that same table employers once did, instead watching the companies try to prove they are daring, innovative and sexy enough to be noticed. AND IT’S WORKING. In order for companies to keep the people they fought so hard to get, they have to put their people first. Because if they don’t, another employer will. Even if that employer ends up being the creative themselves.
Ashley Nowicki is WNW’s global Director of Talent based in Los Angeles. If you want to follow the adventures of the biggest, coolest dog ever check her (and Tonka) out on Instagram.