How Can Advertising Invent New Ways To Connect With Young Creatives?

J. Walter Thompson worldwide chief creative officer Matt Eastwood outlines the challenge of finding the next generation of ad talent.

How Can Advertising Invent New Ways To Connect With Young Creatives?
[Photo: Flickr user Thomas Claveirole]

“The perfect state of creative bliss is having power (you are 50) and knowing nothing (you are 9). This assures an interesting and successful outcome.”–Tibor Kalman


The late Tibor Kalman was the self-proclaimed “Bad Boy of Graphic Design,” and, it just so happens, he’s the author of one of the most inspiring books I’ve ever read. Kalman was also the founding editor-in-chief for Colors magazine, a provocative global quarterly publication that he aimed at young adults and curious, flexible minds of any age. And what I think Kalman is referencing in this recipe for what he calls “creative bliss” is the creative harmony achieved by a balance of the experience that comes with age and the sense of exploration, adventure, and curiosity we often see in our young talent.

Unfortunately, in the advertising industry, this harmony is a bit more like a discord. It’s well documented that in the last few years, young talent, though highly coveted, has become more elusive than ever, being pulled more toward tech and entrepreneurial endeavors than to advertising.

It’s a trend that is not just a frustrating hurdle for our HR and talent teams. If unresolved, it’s an issue that threatens the future of our industry, because if we aren’t attracting and retaining the best and the brightest young talent, then to whom do today’s leaders pass the torch? And how can agencies invent new ways to connect with young creatives?

This is the brief I posed to a group of some of the industry’s brightest and most creative minds at the start of Papel & Caneta’s new report, “Young Creatives.” A stellar global lineup of creative and strategic leaders eagerly united to offer their own solutions in support of Papel & Caneta’s mission to make a positive impact on the industry. The collection of potential solutions in the report makes it a unique gold mine of multidisciplinary and global strategies for resolving Madison Avenue’s talent challenges.

The solution may be different for every agency, but there are some key things every corner of the industry should keep in mind.

[Photo: Unsplash user Jens Johnsson]

Reflect what you want to see in your talent pool and what they want to see in you

A key driver in how deeply millennials connect with a brand is how much or how little the brand supports or reflects the values they hold dear. And that’s a characteristic that agencies need to pay attention to. It suggests that in the case of attracting this same pool of millennials to our agencies, we need to echo some of their values.


In that same vein, I believe it’s critical that an agency’s culture and its recruitment tactics align with the key traits they would like to see from their talent. If we want people who are passionate, diverse, and curious, we need to demonstrate that we are inviting them into spaces that already embody or support that behavior. It’s a real-world test of the maxim “like attracts like.”

Broaden your understanding of diversity, and diversify recruitment practices

Millennials are a much larger and much more ethnically and racially diverse group than boomers, and let’s not forget millennials’ younger siblings, generation Z. Diversity means something much different to them.

Today the industry is particularly focused on gender diversity, and rightfully so. But in elevating how we access young talent, it’s important to understand and engage with the full range of diverse identities, which includes race, gender identity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, disabilities, etc. Understanding the nuances of diversity across these identities and how the young talent pool self-identifies will allow us to tailor how we approach them.

And in diversifying our recruitment practices, it’s also important to stress again that creative solutions don’t just come from creatives. We have to look for talent beyond the traditional channels. The next great creative might be in business school and never set foot in ad school or may never step foot in university at all.

Stress the evolution of advertising

What advertising is today is not what it was in my day. The industry has really blossomed to be an intersection of many things: tech, data, content, and more. Campaigns like J. Walter Thompson Amsterdam’s “The Next Rembrandt”, Google’s “DeepMind” project, or McCann’s “Field Trip to Mars” are testaments to that shift.

In communicating with young talent, it’s key to stress that advertising today has evolved beyond what they’ve seen of Don Draper, and that the continued progress and forward momentum of the industry is truly in their hands to shape.


Attracting young talent is an all-agency and all-industry brief

Creative solutions are the bread and butter of our industry. It’s what our clients expect from us, and it’s what we hold ourselves responsible for delivering.

As a solutions-driven industry, it feels natural that we should approach our own challenges the way we would the brand challenges that we respond to for our client partners. And I see an opportunity for agencies to treat the young talent crisis like a pitch or a brief that all disciplines should be actively involved in.

Kalman once said of his design style, “I am always trying to turn things upside down and see if they look any better.” In adland, we can turn things upside down by putting different disciplines into one room, and allowing each department the opportunity to see how someone with a different skill set can approach the same problem.

Creative solutions don’t just come from creatives. The demands of today’s advertising and marketing landscape require multidisciplinary solutions for our clients–and likewise, in order to galvanize an entire agency around the hot pursuit of the best young talent, everyone from planning to creative, talent to finance needs to put their heads together to offer their diverse perspectives and form a unified strategy for the agency to tackle young talent from all angles.

See Papel & Caneta’s full “Young Creatives” report here.

Matt Eastwood is the worldwide chief creative officer of J. Walter Thompson.