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How to attract and retain an increasingly purpose-led creative workforce | #SustainabilityMonth

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According to research from PLAY, digital product studio and incubator, almost a quarter (24%) of Gen Z employees would not work at a business that profits from unsustainable practices. It’s a pretty considerable chunk of the up and coming workforce which would not be willing to come down to compromises when it comes to their next workplace.

To be fair, they’re not alone: even global consultancy McKinsey has found that about 85% of people feel like they have a sense of purpose, and this realisation (or whatever you may choose to call it) is bound to influence the way people look for their next jobs.

The result is clear: the workforce is more conscious, more sustainable and more purpose-led than ever, and with ever-clearer ideas on what their next employer should be doing to attract their talent. And though sustainability and purpose are clearly two different things, it seems that one doesn’t exclude the other: if you care about purpose, you probably will care about the environment too at some point. For the purpose of this piece, we will use them somewhat interchangeably.

So agencies are faced with a rather interesting problem here: how do you attract and retain talent which is so interested in joining sustainable and responsible agencies, at a time when sustainable agencies are born (or moulded into) every day? 

Competition is fierce, and as the Great Resignation progresses, expectations are even higher year on year. In the week of #EarthDay2022, let’s dive into what helps (and what doesn’t) when it comes to attracting and retaining creative talent in the midst of the climate crisis.

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Image credit: Yulong Lli

Why should you even care?

You may be tempted to ask why you should even make the effort to attract such kind of workforce. You’ll be surprised to know that you should, in fact, care very much.

For one, research has found that pro-environmental actions and behaviours are strictly connected to a heightened sensitivity, and presumably (we may add) a stronger sense of empathy. It may feel like a leap, but it really isn’t: high sensitivity is “characterised by higher activation in brain areas associated with sensory integration, awareness and empathy, emotions and decision making in response to both positive and negative environmental stimulation”, according to RTE.

Anyone who’s been in this industry long enough will know that empathy is one of the leading, determining factors of creativity. You can’t really put yourself in your client’s shoes if you have no idea what empathy is; and you can’t be a successful or beloved leader (sorry) if you can’t empathise with your team.

It feels almost obvious to say it at this point: if you want to attract some of the best creative talent, you should probably care about all things sustainable and responsible to help drive your agency forward.

Be more sustainable (duh)

First off, the basics: of course, for starters, one would think that being an actual sustainable agency can help. If you are genuinely, profoundly interested in making this world a better place, jobseekers will notice right away.

It may sound like something incredibly easy to explain in words, but also extremely hard to quantify. You can’t put a clear number or metric to measure exactly how sustainable a new employer will be; jobseekers may have their own scales and ideas, but there is no way to anticipate what they will be. Being a sustainable, purpose-led agency is something intangible; it runs through your company website, the work you do and even the very job description that you’re using to attract new talent.

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Image credit: Mikhail Puzakov

Do more purposeful work

When a prospective new employee is looking to join your team, he or she will probably look through your work to see what you’re all about. Do you really want to be the agency who helped that one gas and oil business market its latest endeavour in the arctic sea?

If you’ve done work for good, be it pro-bono or otherwise, make sure it’s well visible and highlight it on your Creativepool profile. This doesn’t mean that you should only ever do work for charities or specifically to help the environment all the time, of course; but you should think about the best ways to showcase your sense of ethics, starting with the clients you work with.

More on that later.

Create a futureproof agency culture

Nothing’s more disheartening than getting to the last stages of an interview process, only to find out that the senior leadership team is quite old-fashioned, and not exactly on board with everything you’ve been sold up to now. If you’ve been there, you’ve been there.

It may not matter as much for entry-level roles – graduates are very eager to grind their teeth and make some nice work experience somewhere. But even then, that is changing too. As mentioned, 1 in 4 people belonging to Gen Z are unwilling to work for unsustainable businesses; that number can only go up as new generations leave university and enter the workforce.

Your agency culture should be progressive, forward-thinking, and possibly future-proof. That means being extremely clear about expectations with your leadership team, and guiding them through your agency’s transformation if and where needed.

Be careful who you work with… but don’t overdo it

It can feel heartwarming to complete a project for a client which is fully on board with your sustainability values. A part of you will probably want to do that as much as you can. In the most extreme cases, that can lead you to push away clients who are not as sustainable as they claim to be.

One word of advice: don’t.

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Image credit: Malaika MarieJeanne

This is a hot topic in the advertising world right now, and one that would probably require a whole new article by itself. The core of the issue is that activist groups are demanding for Adland to be held accountable for its contribution in the destruction of the planet – mostly due to consumerism and other similar claims. But it helps no one to simply let go of the most ‘uncomfortable’ clients; if anything, you should always be willing to help those who are looking for a change.

As professionals in the advertising, creative and marketing world, our role is to help clients communicate their mission to the world. And sell more, yes; but also send their message far and wide. And if a client is willing to change their ways, why wouldn’t you guide them in the process?

It doesn’t look as good on your portfolio in the short term, but what about being the agency that was there when one of the largest polluters on the planet became net-zero?

Make clear that you’re all about purpose

Finally, make sure that your purpose, mission, statement (or whatever you may call it) is clear for everybody wanting to join your agency.

This means taking into account everything that we’ve already discussed above. It’s a matter of culture, attitude and work; it has to do with your team as much as with any job description you push out.

A senior role at your agency may well require a hefty job description to get the point across, but that may not do a great job at attracting the right people for your company culture. Are you an innovator, a disruptor, a progressive agency like you say? Show it in the first few lines of the job description. Give it to your best writer. Fill it with your voice and culture.

You can be sure that, if you do all of the above, the right talent will come to you – sooner or later.

Don’t be tokenistic

To wrap it up, a very short and snappy piece of advice: don’t do this stuff because you must.

You know that consumers are smart; prospective employees are even smarter. If you’re not genuine in your ways, and if you’re just doing this to jump on a trend, the talent you’re trying to attract will notice. Being a responsible, sustainable, purpose-led agency is about more than job descriptions and portfolios. It’s definitely a lot more about culture and a shared vision.

The people you want to hire will probably stay with you for a long time, after all. Make sure that they’re on board from the moment they first hear about you.

Looking to attract the best creative talent out there? Take a look at our Talent page, or post a job to find the right people to solve your creative challenges!

Header image: Marcin Szymkowiak

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