When Ogilvy & Mather North America hired Razorfish chief executive Jean-Philippe Maheu in April 2007 to become its chief digital officer, it became one of the first Madison Avenue agencies to recognize the need for such a specialty.
Ogilvy has been ramping up its digital hires ever since.
The agency regularly canvasses smaller firms, which often can't offer employees the career growth of working with big global accounts, such as IBM, Unilever and American Express, said Jean-Rene Zetrenne, chief talent officer of Ogilvy & Mather North America. "It's not just about getting people in the door," he said. "It's about helping them move up once they're here."
The agency and its subsidiaries, including Eicoff in Chicago and Leopard in Denver, employ about 3,000 people in North America and 18,000 people around the world. Ogilvy's U.S. offices have 180 open positions in account management, media and strategic planning, creative and production.
FINS spoke with Zetrenne about how he recruits and retains digital marketers and what the agency looks for in prospective hires.
Damian Ghigliotty: Has acquiring digital talent been a challenge?
Jean-Rene Zetrenne: There is certainly greater competition for digital talent because of all of the changes taking place in advertising online, all of the changes in client needs and all of the smaller digital shops popping up to serve those needs.
But if you look at Ogilvy going back, we were one of the first agencies to do digital marketing back in the mid-80s and one of the first agencies to have a chief digital officer. Our legacy is one of evolution and change, which has allowed us to keep pace and in some cases lead the charge on the digital front. Nonetheless, digital talent is our core focus right now.
DG: What do you look for?
JRZ: People who have that traditional creative experience, but know how to use that perspective to reach people on their smartphones and iPads as well as through social media, blogging and online video.
Each of those platforms requires their own techniques. The digital arena is more personal and intimate than TV, radio or print, so we want people who understand how to translate the brand experience to the latest digital technologies.
DG: What agencies are hotbeds for digital talent?
JRZ: Among the bigger agencies, BBDO stands out. Among the smaller to midsize agencies, SapientNitro, AKQA, Big Fuel and Digitas also leave an impression on us in terms of how they attract and cultivate talent.
Most recently we've hired people from AKQA, Gotham and StrawberryFrog to name a few.
DG: What do you offer people you've lured from smaller agencies?
JRZ: Many of these smaller agencies and digital start-ups do incredible things. Yet, I tend to see that their employees reach a plateau, where they stop and say, 'I'm not getting the kind of budget that I need,' or 'I'm not getting the kind of exposure for my work that I need.'
That is when many of those candidates look to us, since we offer multidisciplinary opportunities and a network of offices that extends around the world. With the people we've hired from those smaller agencies, we've also offered them the opportunity to work on bigger accounts and do so by taking on several roles.
DG: Has it become harder to attract people from smaller agencies as they've grown in popularity and number?
JRZ: We haven't really run into that issue. I think that's largely because of our culture, heritage and the opportunity we offer to work across a large global network.
Also at Ogilvy, those who work in digital have a seat at the table with the grown-ups. That means they are sitting down with C-level clients, which is less common at smaller agencies. Our mission is to grow and develop the smartest people in the business. Part of that means allowing our newer employees to engage with big decision makers.
DG: Has Ogilvy lost talent to some of these smaller agencies?
JRZ: Those instances do occur, especially when you're dealing with the Millennial Generation. In this economy, a lot of younger employees are looking to get what they can in terms of experience and then move elsewhere within a two- to three-year time frame.
So we constantly have to find ways to make sure we are providing our employees with the breadth and variety of experience that will make them feel that this is a place for them to stay. All companies are dealing with that right now, especially in advertising.
DG: How do you to retain your best people?
JRZ: When you look at the newer generation in the workplace, a lot of what they look for is feedback, perspective and the opportunity to grow their skill sets. At Ogilvy, we've been committed to a talent management strategy that really allows people to understand what kind of opportunities lay before them in the organization.
As part of our career development effort, we have an internal job posting system that gives our employees access a line of sight into other opportunities across North America that will help them with their career growth. We also do talent audits that allow us to give better feedback to our employees and improve our development and succession planning.
DG: What do you offer in terms of compensation and benefits?
JRZ: We offer market competitive compensation packages with full benefits. If you're in advertising and you're trying to protect your top talent, you have to be competitive in that area. We have a few hundred employees who work on a contract basis. The rest of our employees are salaried.
Write to Damian Ghigliotty at Damian.Ghigliotty@dowjones.com