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The talent squeeze


The talent squeeze

Do leadership development programs help retain staff or just empower them to move on? And what can we do to avoid the ‘experience drain’?

Senior talent in agencies, at director level and above, face difficult choices and challenges to their career development and progression. There is some exceptional senior talent in this region residing – in both international networks and smaller independent agencies – so how does the region avoid losing this talent with all their regional expertise due to the lack of career options and opportunities for progression?

Leadership development programs

Leadership development programs are a great concept for a large agency network. They help progress an individual at management level, taking them up to director level and above. For smaller non-network agencies, it is more of a challenge to hold on to good, highly trained performers and enable them to see a career progression within the business.

Glass ceilings at senior levels, however, are a common problem in independent Middle East agencies. If you’re not in a network, there isn’t any natural place to progress if your director isn’t moving anywhere or your agency has no new plans to develop other functions within the business.

Furthermore, many agencies in the region have flat organizational structures meaning there is simply nowhere for senior talent to go because the number of quality opportunities are few and far between. In London or New York, for example, there is a far larger catchment with broader options, enabling senior talent to transition and plan the next career move.

Client side opportunities

Moving over to the client side from agencies can generally prove quite rigid for talent that has been used to the free and easy agency life. Clients usually have their own clear ideas, visions and beliefs on what type of experience they feel is appropriate and typically the key essential requirement is work experience with a direct competitor. These candidates have a wealth of experience in managing brands, understanding their DNA and driving them strategically forward, making them uniquely positioned to transition to the client side. Yet, our own data shows that less than 20 percent of client’s MARCOM vacancies are filled by former agency talents, which is causing obvious frustration among much of the local senior talent.

While senior talents in the region are increasingly finding themselves between a rock and a hard place, being forced to sacrifice their own career progression and stay with their current employer’s constraints, why are we still seeing plenty of movement within the industry?

Startup boom

Over the past 12 months, there has been an upward trend for senior talent branching out on their own or joining start-ups who can offer them that opportunity to become part of a growing senior management team and even a directorship. This is often the only obvious progression for many talented senior level individuals to grab the right role, at the right level, with the right support and compensation.

For those who are looking for something a little less risky, there’s an increasing temptation to move around agencies or into new in-house positions. Currently there are opportunities for senior talent out there but these tend to be in the less desirable regions, unlike the UAE where the standard of living is high and the lifestyle is more or less what they are used to in their home countries.

While I’m seeing these current market trends, I am also urging talent to rethink any impulsive moves outside of their agency. I want to avoid the problem of an ‘experience drain’ where these highly qualified, respected, successful and skilled talent are forced to look outside the region for a suitable career move, and hence I’d say, “Don’t quit your job just yet! You may have had enough of your current role but you’re far more desirable to an organization if you’re in a good role.”

Education and re-training

I strongly believe that further educating yourself after years of commercial experience does bring another dimension and value to your experience, which may help you stand out from the crowd. So skill-up, network within and outside of your industry, use your connections wisely, and contribute to periodicals and awards. In short, put yourself on the radar.


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