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Lessons learned from the marketing community to attract, nurture and retain talent

Like many sectors, the marketing and communications sector is experiencing major challenges in attracting, nurturing and retaining talent.  Statistics and commentary on skills shortages, capabilities gaps, churn and dramatic salary increases have been widespread.

The Observatory International recently met with senior representatives from ISBA’s membership to discuss these issues.  This article builds on that conversation to highlight key initiatives to attract, motivate and retain employees.

During the pandemic the Marketing function achieved increased recognition for its role in supporting brand and business growth.  Yet at the same time there was a growing tension between Marketing being perceived as a force for good to drive change and responsible consumer choices vs being perceived as a driver of excess consumption and waste.

Within the sector a lot of work has been done to address Environmental, Social and Governance factors, for example through The World Federation of Advertisers’ Planet Pledge, the Advertising Association’s All-In Campaign and the ISBA/IPA Pitch Positive initiative.  Individual brands and companies need to work on not only how they are perceived by consumers but also their employees or potential employees, if they are going to attract the best talent.

High churn, talent shortages and salary inflation, all exacerbated by the pandemic, have meant that senior management are now having to devote an increasing amount of time to build and motivate their teams and retain staff, which has now become management’s number one issue.

The time taken to recruit people is extending too, particularly for more senior roles where the risk to change is greater or is more complex, particularly if there are other considerations such as childcare.

Finding the right balance of office and remote working is also absorbing a lot of time.  Finding an appropriate balance between these and the needs of different groups and people at different stages in their career also vary in this mix.  Being in the office is extremely valuable for new appointees and less experienced members of the team to support training, learning from others, and also provide a sense of community, whilst more experienced members of the team, especially those with multiple demands on their time may be able to work better and be more motivated in a hybrid model.

So what are the solutions?


Attracting talent

The perception of a brand/company is equally important to employees as it is to consumers.  The business needs to be appealing to candidates.  When thinking about how to communicate and promote job opportunities, the name of the brand, not just the parent company, needs to be obvious. Clarity on Environmental, Social and Governance policies and practice is also important.

Hybrid working models are now the most common format and have the benefit of opening up a much wider pool of talent – geographically, and in terms of life-stage and experience.

Thinking outside the usual recruitment paths to extend the talent pool, for example engaging with 16- to 18-year-olds to offer them work experience and build a career path can have significant benefits, as can initiatives to work with organisations supporting under-represented groups.


Nurture and retaining talent

According to Marketing Week’s Career and Salary Survey, 40% of companies are turning to external hiring and only 20% are looking to train staff.

Looking to external rather than internal resource is a missed opportunity because the institutional knowledge and network of an experienced employee can help to solve problems faster.  Add to that the time taken to recruit and then bring a new starter up to speed in their role delays the ability of talent to make a positive contribution to the business further.

The Management Consultancies Association has identified that training and development is in the top 3 factors to attract and retain talent.

With financial constraints and cost freezes due to the economic context, there will be even greater risks to training and development budgets.  This has significant implications for marketing and communications teams.

Briefing is one of the cornerstone skills of a marketer.  During the pandemic, and the associated period of remote working, junior members of the team will not have had the benefit of working alongside more experienced members of the team to hone this skill.

There is now a whole tranche of employees potentially lacking in this core skill.  Great briefs and great agency relationship management lead to a frictionless and enjoyable process which is good for client teams and the agency partners they work with, and which will invariably be reflected in the quality of subsequent outputs.

So, training and mentoring is essential, not just as a motivational factor to attract and retain staff, but to ensure operational and creative excellence.  Training budgets and development programmes need to be protected at all costs.

One route for talent development is to ensure planned career paths for employees to build their skills and maintain interest, effectively planning job moves every two to three years.

While this is another drain on management’s time it is a worthwhile investment to avoid churn in the team, while at the same time supporting and building expertise of individuals.  And if there aren’t immediate opportunities to develop and move people, or they are averse to change, involve them in specialist projects to widen their experience, knowledge and maintain their interest.

The continuation of hybrid working is another strongly motivational factor, but with appropriate guardrails and ‘incentives’ in place to ensure optimal working.  For example, creating an atmosphere of community and belonging rather than ‘cliques’ to encourage people into the office.  Arranging regular in-person team meetings possibly with guest speakers / senior management – all to encourage attendance in the office.  But at the same time enabling the flexibility to manage a work/life balance for those that want/need it.


The talent crisis is real but it provides an opportunity to reinstate or reemphasise good people management and behaviours.  We live in a world where talent has reimagined what it wants – to make great work, for great brands that are proactive in looking after the people that work for them and with them, and are a force for good in society and the environment.

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