Getting creative: As agency margins get thinner, CHI & Partners's Sarah Golding explains how the advertising industry can keep attracting young talent

Will Railton
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If it’s the case that we have to raise our game to keep our status, then I don’t mind, says Golding

There are so many creative industries; young people have never had greater choice,” says Sarah Golding, chief executive of CHI & Partners. Attracting talent, she believes, is the biggest issue facing creative agencies today. “It is hard for creative agencies in the marketing industry to attract them; the best ones are in the centre of town and we don’t necessarily pay as much as in other industries – creative or not.”

In June, research by the Marketing Agencies Association revealed the decline in rates being charged by the marketing industry for its services. Despite consumer price inflation of 46 per cent since 2002, the rates charged for creative and creative production services have fallen by 10.3 per cent and 35.6 per cent respectively.

Thinner margins have reduced salaries. And with the UK’s most prominent agencies located in the capital, marketing – and the creative industries in general – are having to think of new ways to harness the talent, according to Golding. “The housing shortage in London remains acute, rents are high and real incomes in our sector and many others haven’t kept up.

“It’s about embracing new ways of working and not feeling afraid that it won’t work if someone isn’t physically in the room. That could mean relocating to other cities outside London. People are already working from home – we’re constantly having Skype calls with creative people in the States.”

Attracting attention

Other moves taken by CHI & Partners, such as the dissolution of the creative pairing – which saw an art director and copywriter partnered together permanently – may also help attract young people.

“I’m sure it works for other agencies, but this is our way of working and what we believe. It allows creatives from different disciplines to come together; it’s more collaborative and you are more likely to come up with a media-agnostic big idea which can work in any channel. And it allows someone straight out of art college, for example, to come in and work on a huge brief with two or three other people with 20 or 30 years’ experience between them.

“Young people don’t always want to work on boutiquey brands nobody’s ever heard of. It’s mutually beneficial internally – both the young and experienced can learn from each other – and from the client’s perspective, because they get a broader range of talent than they would have ordinarily had.”

The new and the old

Giving millennials the freedom to explore for themselves may also be key when advertising to young consumers. In April, CHI & Partners launched a campaign for Carphone Warehouse’s millennial-aimed mobile network iD, entitled “Do your own thing”. Documenting the lives of extraordinary young people, CHI decided to launch the campaign on Facebook.

“If you really want to engage millennials, you have to talk to them on their own terms, in their own environment,” says Golding. “You have to speak to, celebrate and be true to their values. Unlike baby-boomers, you can’t broadcast at them. You need to put content in front of them, and if they like it, they can share it. They want individuality, and the ability to discover for themselves.”

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The changing media landscape is something creative agencies need to be mindful of. But even with the proliferation of channels, second screening and hunger for “snackable” content, Golding thinks that having “a big idea” has never been more important.

“If you don’t have one, you end up with an incoherent bag of bits. Your brand will have no purpose, story or relevance.

“We gave British Gas a big idea – looking after your home. It wanted to bring together its services and green division internally before going out to the consumer with a single idea which would enable them to cross-sell and bundle propositions. Our ‘planet home’ creative has been going for years, but it still outperforms all its key performance indicators. It has helped with retention and put the company back into growth.”


Leaving the EU will have a big effect on the UK’s marketing industry, Golding believes, though Brexit doesn’t faze her.

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It was significant, she says, that the Brexit vote coincided with a Cannes Lions week where UK creative agencies shone, and agencies like Adam&Eve/DDB and CHI & Partners were decorated.

“The UK has been a centre of creative excellence for so long; it is the gateway to the rest of Europe for international brands. Whereas that position might have been a given in the past, it is going to put pressure on us to be even better. But the decision has been made. So how do we turn it into a positive?

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“If it’s the case that we have to raise our game to keep our status, then I don’t mind. That’s a challenge this agency and the UK’s creative industries can rise to.”