Who’s Stealing My Peeps? Uh-Oh… It’s My Client

Forget about competitive agencies luring away your best talent. As more clients go in-house, they’ll be looking for digital experts to help them manage marketing needs. Guess whose names may be at the top of their recruiting lists? That’s right… the employees of their current ad agency. Yes, your current clients could be looking to recruit your most tech-savvy employees for that in-house agency they’ve been thinking about.

How do you defend against clients, or your competitors in the ad business, recruiting your best interactive media employees—or any of your people—out from under you?

Seven Employee Retention Strategies

Pay a competitive salary – If you can’t match the salary, make every effort to sweeten compensation with benefits that balance the deal.

Build on culture – Make a smart, fun, creative culture the heart of your agency. If people enjoy working for you, with your other employees and for your carefully curated client roster, they will be less likely to chuck it all for an uncertain future with a client organization full of unknown quantities, just to earn a few extra dollars.

Provide a path to advancement – Help employees see that they can achieve many of their career goals by staying with your agency and growing into managers or even future agency owners. Ask employees about longer-term career goals, and help them see a path to achieving them.

Educate them – Give employees support and opportunities for continued learning. Encourage people to self-train by giving them time to do so, and sharing any costs. Take potential leaders to manager conferences. Send employees to seminars and learning sessions. Make sure their new knowledge finds room to expand and develop within your agency.

Give them authority – Having agency over one’s workday and schedule is a boon for creative industry employees. Give employees some authority to make incremental changes, have flexibility in their schedules, and take creative risks. You’ll grow stronger employees and enjoy increased loyalty to boot.

Have their backs – Support employees in their endeavors—and especially when they make mistakes. Stick up for them publicly; save the critiques for private conversation. If you make it clear you have their backs, they will always have yours.

Give them purpose – Meaningful work that makes a difference is an important consideration for younger members of the workforce. Know your brand values and purpose: Why do you do what you do, and how do you do it? Purpose is the reason employees like, even love their jobs. Select clients who align with your agency values, and seek challenging projects to keep your people at the top of their games.

Have non-piracy agreements with key employees – Although non-piracy agreements are aimed at preventing employees from taking your clients to start competing agencies, not being hired by clients, they may deter employees from considering offers from your clients. An agreement will limit clients’ ability to gain access to intellectual property (your unsold ideas) if they do hire an agency employee. Review your client contracts and agreements to see if you need to protect against clients soliciting your employees and stealing ideas. Talk to an employment law counselor to see what can be done to firm up legal protections.

Employee retention brings many benefits to a smaller ad agency. The stability that comes with a solid, collaborative team enables agency leaders to focus on the important stuff—client service, new business/growth, and profits. And vesting employees in the business for the long term enables agency owners to find and nurture the future leaders of the business. Make sure your agency business plan considers employee retention and threats to achieving that goal. And include succession planning in leadership discussions.


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