Is new business a talent hotbed?

The talent hotbed

Over the past three months, I have been going slightly mad trying to recruit five new people into my team. This is good news: Havas is growing fast, and that means we need (more) brilliant new talent who will help support and drive that growth.

My brief, at face value, is simple enough: individuals who I believe are the best in the industry, who’ll fit into the fast-paced and demanding world of new business and marketing, and who – perhaps most importantly – don’t fit the ‘standard’ perception of what new business people are or ‘should’ be.

But the challenge has been much greater than I expected it to be – and I don’t for a second think it’s because those brilliant people aren’t out there.

So: why?

Firstly, many recruiters seem to have suddenly conflated ‘new business’ and ‘sales’ – and are therefore putting salespeople, who I neither want nor need, forward for new business jobs. This is no slight on those candidates, but the two disciplines are fundamentally different entities.

But secondly, and arguably more concerningly, new business appears to have lost its kudos – and, accordingly, we are seeing less and less brilliant talent venturing into it.

A colleague of mine at Adam & Eve DDB recently wrote in Campaign about the increasing lack of respect for the new business professionals in her world, and how this needs to change. I couldn’t agree more.

Don’t get me wrong: I am lucky. 

I have a CEO and Chairman who has publicly stated that new business is the lifeblood of the business, and he walks this talk. Consequently, my team is supported, respected and has a very clear and prominent place at the top table.

But that’s also partly because of how we have set up the new business team.

I believe ‘new biz’ is an essential skill no matter what your discipline, and one which everyone at some point in their career should gain.

So I employ people who, on first appearances or on paper, are not necessarily your typical new business practitioners. Instead, I draw on individuals from a variety of backgrounds – planning, client services, creative, data analytics, PR, etcetera –  who join new business to learn and grow. And then move on.

New business should be a talent hotbed – a breeding ground for brilliance where you learn about what makes great work, how to tell a compelling story, what it takes to get a CEO to change their point of view and how to operate as one cross-agency team.

I’d go as far to say there is no other department in the agency which is so exposed to the coalface and to senior stakeholders on an everyday basis, or who can have such a measurable, visible impact on the future success of a business. 

This attitude probably stems from my own background as a former client and agency suit.

But I have people in my team (right now) who were clients, writers, event organisers and creatives. And I want them to learn, do brilliantly and then eventually to move into different departments in the agency: taking the skills learnt in new business out into the business. Think of it as infiltration by stealth!

In all seriousness, as well as retaining brilliant talent (who increasingly don’t want one career, but several) within the building, it also results in an agency that has new business built in its very DNA. 

Ultimately, if we recognise new business as an essential part of everyone’s armory, we will end up with better, more diverse talent – and the respect this crucial discipline deserves.

By Tracey Barber, Group CMO, Havas UK