Planning to Hire: Assessing Talent Needs, Budgets and Recruiting To-Dos

For most smaller advertising agencies and marketing firms, hiring is something you do as you a) need more people due to account wins or in-demand skills, or b) you have the budget to add support staff to lighten existing workloads. Very few smaller agencies actually develop a long-term hiring plan. But as we all know, having a plan is a big improvement over reactive action—if you only hire when you must, you very often end up hiring “whoever we can get” instead of “the best we can afford.”

With the goal of getting to where strategic hiring is included in your long-term business plan, following are steps to help you analyze what people you will need and plan for future hiring that truly builds the best team you can.

Integrate hiring into the annual business plan. Have managers assess needs within their areas, and discuss at the annual planning meeting which positions to prioritize. Align hiring plans with agency goals/objectives and targeted growth areas.

Determine who you will need. Consider important new skill sets, job openings, new business opportunities, diversity goals, and current/projected turnover. Hiring requires you to prioritize: Where will new hires best boost cash flow/revenue? Where can you make do with contractors/freelance support? (Be aware of changing regulations regarding contractors.) ALSO: make sure you know the skill sets your current employees have—are you under-utilizing people who can bring additional skills forward? Should you hire entry-level people and promote/train existing staff?

Develop job descriptions for positions you hope to fill. Remember to make jobs sound attractive, not just a dull list of tasks and responsibilities. Tell your brand story. But don’t oversell the job. New hire job satisfaction starts from the job description and ad—be realistic, but appealing.

Is timing an issue? New business acquisition may demand new talent with specific skills. How fast do you need them? Set goals for when you need to accomplish key hiring. Schedule hires for key skill sets and industry experience aligned to new business targets and core competencies. How easy is it to fill jobs in your market area? Are some jobs likely to take longer to fill? (Advertise those first.)

Who can you afford? You should conduct budget and payroll analysis as part of your hiring plan. How many positions can you realistically add? What is your time window? What additional related investments (equipment, benefits, etc.) will be needed per hire? Remember to keep an eye on the ideal payroll-to-AGI ratio in a smaller ad agency: aim to stay in the 50-55% range.

Can you attract good people? How competitive are your salaries/benefits packages? Take time annually to fine tune your salary grades and pay ranges. (Read Salary Setting and Planning for Ad Agency Owners.) 

Make a to-do list of recruiting tasks. What do you need to do to begin pulling potentials recruits into your hiring pipeline? Make sure you utilize SEO best practices to ensure your job posting/recruiting efforts rise to the top of job searches.

  • Seek referrals – Often your own employees, clients and other business contacts know people who may fit your needs.
  • Network – In a strong job market, many people are open to job offers even if not actively searching. Reach out in ad clubs, industry events and on social media.
  • Outreach – Speaking engagements, college job fairs, etc., can help you connect with communities where recruits can find you. Dedicate at least some content marketing to recruiting tactics.

Work to improve your hiring processes. How well do you process candidates? Fine-tune your screening, interview and decision-making procedures. Build interview questions based on your job descriptions, needed skills, and agency values/cultural alignment. Develop basic form letters and email templates to use in communicating with applicants and candidates. Train employees who will be involved in interviewing and hiring decisions.

Make sure you have good on-boarding procedures, especially in light of the hybrid and virtual workforces that have developed as a result of the pandemic. Many good hires choose to leave within six months because agencies neglect orientation and training after the hire. 

Update your hiring plans at least annually. You may still need people unexpectedly, but having a plan helps you decide if you must hire now, or can wait to do so when it is more convenient or affordable. No plan is carved in stone. A hiring plan guides decision –making, but it should never prevent you from snapping up a really good person, or seeking out a new hire’s specific talent or skill set to service an account acquisition.