“The War for Talent is Here!” Conor Smith, President of The BOSS Group – AdChat Interview
Demand For Skilled Creative Talent High for Foreseeable Future
The Boss Group, an award-winning creative staffing firm for interactive, creative and marketing talent, recently hosted CreativeExecs, an invitation only event that took place at the Westin Hotel Dallas Park Central. In attendance were many local Fortune 500 executives for the round table discussion led by Conor Smith, President of The BOSS Group. On the table topics included surprising Bureau of Labor statistics and how they will impact the creative and marketing space, common challenges, and emerging options for talent acquisition for in-house creative teams.
AdChat DFW sat down with Conor Smith who revealed some unexpected takeaways from the event, including high future demand for skilled creative talent and the common need for experienced digital teams.
AdChat DFW: Tell us about the CreativeExecs Event, “The Changing Talent Acquisition Landscape in the Creative, Marketing and Digital Space”, and why The Boss Group decided to host it.
Conor Smith: We’ve held this popular event for eight years now, on a regular basis throughout the country and the Dallas series is our 4th out of 6 for the spring round table sessions. The BOSS Group partners with Cella, our sister company, Cella, which is a consultancy for in-house creative operations. We came up with this idea because we found a vacuum for leaders to network and gain knowledge on topics relevant for in-house creative groups. The information we exchanged was also relevant to agencies, but the focus is mainly for in-house creative leaders. Topics vary but it is always something they want to discuss based on surveys we send out to them.
AdChat DFW: Who attended the event?
Conor Smith: Twenty-Three heads from throughout the Dallas area, including VPs, Creative Directors, and leaders of in-house and marketing functions within corporations. A few top companies in attendance included Sabre, Pearson, Provasi Capital, Hilton, Interstate Batteries, UT Southwestern Texas Instruments and Alcon.
AdChat DFW: What was discussed at the event?
This event’s topics were varied as I moderated the round table discussion. We talked about the trends we are seeing in the industry and presented some national data. Then asked questions about what they were seeing in DFW. Interestingly we saw many similar points of pain being experienced locally and by companies attending our other events around the country.
AdChat DFW: What did the data show?
Conor Smith: There is a lot of mind-blowing data out there that shows a huge trend around the scarcity of creative, marketing and digital talent. When I travel around the country I find there is a camp of stakeholders, whether in procurement or HR, who still think we are in this high unemployment and great recession. They are under the misconception that there are plenty of people out there to fill the demand. But the data shows differently. In fact, the unemployment rate for degreed professionals is down to 2.5%, which is just unbelievable! We all lived through the recession and the scars are deep, but we are years beyond it now. Although unskilled labor continues to hurt, the skilled faction is in incredible demand. It’s tremendous news.
Also, we are now seeing a huge variance on how companies are utilizing temporary labor for contingent work, made up of anyone who is not full-time. It’s a 3.1 trillion-dollar industry, and only 11% of that flows through typical staffing firms. The vast majority is coming from either SOW type work, independent contractors or outsourcing solutions. The discussion is if you are finding one channel clogged in the way your company is acquiring talent, and are frustrated with the way HR is putting the handcuffs on, that there are many ways to get work done on a contingent basis you just have to open your eyes and explore them.
Another amazing stat put out by Staffing Industry Analysts is about $8 billion is spent annually on non-full-time labor in the U.S. alone, with the minority of that spent with W-2 employees.
AdChat DFW: What are the trends you are seeing?
Conor Smith: We are seeing many trends, including companies that want to take control of their own brand, and do it internally, utilizing agencies on a more strategic basis. We are also seeing a mixture of outsourcing to that in-house group. So it’s an in-sourcing-outsourcing hybrid situation, mixing the resources to get the work done with anything from full-time labor to freelancers and outsourcing key production work.
AdChat DFW: Is the in-house agency a growing trend?
Conor Smith: Yes, I believe so. We see many in-house agencies with the same structure you may have with and external agency, and it may not fall under the marketing umbrella. Literally an in-house agency with its own infrastructure with creative talent, media buying, content creation, the whole deal. Additionally, we have many clients in a shared service with external agencies usually using them on some of the higher level strategic creative projects. But on the Tier 2 and 3, where they re-purpose that strategic work and design, they are competing with the agencies and bringing that work in-house.
AdChat DFW: So what is changing in the talent acquisition landscape?
Conor Smith: During the Great Recession there tended to be a power shift in who manages the labor force. We used to be able to work directly with the hiring manager. But then procurement and purchasing looked for cost cutting measures and took control over the contingent labor spend. This was a smart move during 2009-2010 because the demand for creative talent was lower and supply was higher. Fast-forward to 2016, where there is now a 2.5% rate unemployment for skilled professionals, these policies are making it difficult for companies to get the talent they need.
AdChat DFW: What did companies come away with from the round table discussion?
Conor Smith: The event wasn’t a three hour sales pitch for The BOSS Group and Cell, as we were agnostic. If your company is having trouble operating with cost cutting policies, there is a whole other world out there where the vast majority of the work is getting done. Our family of companies will help fill that hole. We are agnostic at which directions companies go for we can service you on any of these channels, helping with direct placement or outsourcing needs or helping across a broad spectrum whether merely part-time or outsourcing entire teams.
So the question for companies during the event was where do you sit on that spectrum? If your CFO asked why a 100% full time staff is better than outsourcing could you defend it? There could be compliance or on-boarding issues or maybe there are complex branding guidelines that prevent outsourcing. Companies need to identify where they fall on that paradigm how they got there.
AdChat DFW: So recruiting firms are currently in a win-win situation filling the needs of both full-time, part-time and freelance creative talent.?
Conor Smith: The BOSS Group and its sister companies make up what we call a Total Talent Human Capital Solutions Organization focusing on the creative marketing space. We want to provide the talent, services that best fits what your need. You may simply need an extra pair of hands for a digital project or maternity leave coverage. Or perhaps need help creating a good use case to outsource an entire department, whatever the need, we are there for you. In fact, sometime we recommend that outsourcing is not good for you. Our consulting company, Cella, is completely independent of The BOSS Group, and are there to give an unbiased recommendation.
AdChat DFW: What are the top three challenges companies face in recruiting talent?
Conor Smith: First it’s finding digital talent. Everyone is in the race to transition from traditional to digital. And this has been true for a while, but we are hearing it over and over again. And the landscape is always changing. Finding great UI/UX and mobile talent, digital designers and developers, copywriters who write resonating copy, SEO people…finding that talent is extremely challenging.
The second thing I’m hearing is having the business model, the metrics and cost structure that you are able to bring talent in on demand and justify that. Do you have a charge back system set up? Are you able to hire talent you need or does HR get in the way? Are your human capital supply channels clogged?
Thirdly what is the best channel? If you have Tier 3 and 4 production work being done by a full time person who has been there 25 years and is outside the salary band, that person will be vulnerable to have their job replaced by less expensive outsourcing.
Tier 1 work is the highest levels strategic work a department can do. High level brain work. Typically, this is a top ad agency. Tier 2 work tend to be repurposing of that work, i.e. design that is still creative but is repurposing the brand. Tier 3 is heavy production work. We’ve found the sweet spot for in-house groups is Tier 2-3, So Cella helps companies analyze their tier structure and make it successful.
AdChat DFW: How does The Boss Group address these challenges?
Conor Smith: Cella has something called a Creative Operations Assessment (COPS) and can completely analyze your department head to toe and make recommendations. I believe Cella is the best consultancy for in-house groups. For The BOSS Group, I would put our labor solutions against any company’s as we are the only creative staffing firm in the country to win Inavero’s Best of Staffing Diamond Award for superior service from both customers and talent perspective. Our customers have recommended us as one of the best staffing companies in the country. Less the 1% of companies win this award and for a staffing company to do that says a lot. That’s due to our being solely in this niche, this is all we do. We are passionate about finding the best creative talent. Cella can help you set up your department and The BOSS Group delivers on fleshing out the staff, it’s a complete solution.
AdChat DFW: What should companies do to attract the best talent?
Conor Smith: Make sure you partner with companies that can flow talent your way. Identify and eliminate roadblocks that may prevent attracting the right digital developer or UIUX, for example. Are you able to pull talent toward you? And if you can’t, explore other talent acquisition channels. Really it all comes down to people and you can’t afford to be passive about that. You must take ownership of your own personal career brand. Everybody is looking for the same thing right now: digital design and good content. There is not a lot of talent out there to fill that need, and we don’t expect the supply to outpace the demand anytime in the next 20 years.
The war for talent is here.