Picture this, it’s your typical mid-week morning and I’m sifting through emails, putting out the odd fire, lighting another under a colleague. Between sips of coffee, I overhear the whispers on the other side of the office. An agency, let’s call them ‘Agency X’ for the sake of this story, has blanket messaged nearly my entire team (both in the US and the UK) on LinkedIn trying to poach them.

Now, I for one can’t blame ‘Agency X’, my team’s sh!t hot after all. But it was then that it dawned on me that SEEN Connects, the influencer marketing agency I founded six years ago is not alone. We’re not alone in struggling with the biggest challenge to hit our industry since influencers became synonymous with flat tummy tea.

Now, two years on from the first lockdown in the UK, the pandemic has hit all industries but particularly influencer marketing in two distinct (and correlated) ways. As the founder and MD of an agency that matches brands and influencers to create ROI-busting campaigns, I’ve had a front-row seat as this sector has grown exponentially and is now valued globally at £12.4B. As a result of reaching a new stage of maturity, the talent needed to fuel this ballooning sector is in high demand. And, trust me, don’t I know it.

The Great Resignation

They called 2021 the year of the ‘Great Resignation’ when 4.4M people in the US voluntarily left their jobs in September alone. This trend rippled its way across the pond, and we’re now reeling from the fallout.

It’s never been harder to hire. For employees, the pandemic heightened a myriad of work-life balance issues – childcare, maternity leave length, healthcare, salaries, burnout. Going back to the way it was in 2019 is no longer an option. Bloomberg said that 60% of managers, like myself, have reported that it’s now more difficult to recruit than it was pre-Covid-19.

Though #quitmyjob has amassed 238M views on TikTok, the view from my desk shows this isn’t a trend fuelled solely by Millennials and Gen-Z. It’s affecting mid-levels too, those people that are responsible for maintaining client services, onboarding staff, and carrying the strain of HR.

Our problem is twofold. Firstly, now 38% of brands allocate up to 20% of their marketing budgets to influencers, SEEN Connects has been able to lap up this sea-change.

As we’ve expanded, so has the rest of the influencer marketing sector. It’s busier than ever and we’ve got more competition than before to acquire and retain an experienced team.

With hiring at the top of my agenda, I’ve noticed two fundamental shifts in this area, which I imagine are universal to most sectors. Not to sound cliché, but speed is of the essence. If you don’t snap up talent, someone else will. Whether it’s rates or WFH days, flexible employment terms or four-day weeks, nearly every aspect of the contract is now fully negotiable.

Retention vs acquisition

Retention is as important as an acquisition because exits impact a team and a business. Training up a new employee takes time and money. While trying to grow, it’s important not to lose focus on the team you have. When work doesn’t feel like a chore and your colleagues are your friends, employee turnover naturally decreases.

Beyond regular salary reviews, paying fair wages, and perks like private healthcare, there are other ways to keep a team engaged with the business mission. For instance, at Connects we’ve introduced a few retention schemes, which I can’t recommend enough. Firstly, an upskilling platform, which keeps the team energised, but also delivers dividends as they bring their new expertise to their role. Secondly, we’ve introduced an in-house mentorship programme. It’s a semi-social collaborative experience, which bonds the team and allows for more shared wisdom.

I strongly believe that entries to our industry need to be broadened. A degree helps, but we know the opportunity to go to university isn’t open to everyone. So, in this current job market, we should be opening the gates to people from more diverse backgrounds.

“The UK labour market is as tight as it has ever been in recent memory,” Sanjay Raja, chief UK economist at Deutsche Bank, wrote in a note to clients at the beginning of this year, “Indeed, a swathe of metrics all point to one of the hottest labour markets coming out of the pandemic.”

Sanjay is right, and it’s our role as employers to think creatively about how to tackle one of the biggest challenges facing our industry, hiring and retaining excellent talent.

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