Why Pieter Baert’s leave should be a wake-up call for the advertising industry

This february, one of Belgium’s biggest digital talents, Pieter Baert (@pietel), quit the advertising industry (in Dutch). Why this is just the start of an exodus of digital talent and why this should be worrying the advertising industry.

Many companies have already lost the war for talent. They fail to offer a good company culture, to break hierarchy lines, to offer inspiring managers, flexible location and working hours and all the other things digital natives want (also, see my presentation on digital natives).

In response, many talents just start to work for smaller companies, start their own business or start working freelance. Check Yourneighbours, My name is E, Nalden.net and Kbiri.nl, just to name a few. Many digital natives that ARE working at multinationals just do so to wait for the economical crisis to calm down. When the economy starts to pick up again, expect one talent after the other switching to other and mostly smaller companies.

With multinationals/advertisers losing this war, agencies seemed to do pretty well. They are smaller, more flexible, less hierarchic and have plethora of extravagant and inspirational managers (Jens Mortier at Mortierbrigade, Guido Goffeau at Proximity/BBDO, Pieter Goiris at Boondoggle, Guillaume Vander Stighelen). Some of the brightest digital minds therefore chose to join bigger or smaller agencies: Martin Kloos at MediaEmbassy, Mattijs Devroedt at DuvalGuillaume, Tijs Vrolix at Proximity/BBDO, Nicolas Moerman at Proximity, Jesse Wynants at Boondoggle, Louis Ingelaere at Boondoggle each bring digital knowledge, creativity and entrepreneurship to their employers.

But in february, Pieter Baert quit. In his own words: Digital and advertising aren’t an obvious fit (“Digitaal en reclame is geen evidente match”).

This should be worrying at least some agencies. Being able to attract digital natives is the only way to stay relevant in the future.

Maybe Pieter can elaborate on this, but there are some signs for me:

  1. Agencies are run by visionairy but pretty stubborn fourty-somethings. “Half the stuff you remember, I’ll never have to know. I’m halfway to catching up to you.” is a quote that is pretty apt. Most agency CEO’s just don’t realize it. 
  2. Agencies that hire young talents have expectation that are too high. Building a decent blog and twitter following is one, but applying this knowledge to agency branding and real customers is another thing. Digital natives might fail to apply their knowledge to the agency or customer setting. Pretty logical, but it requires that agencies take time and adjust their expectations to help digital natives learn to apply their skills in another another world;
  3. Young talents that are hired have expectations that are too high. The number of people that can turn a traditional agency into a digital powerhouse is pretty limited. Don’t expect to be able to.
  4. Communication-gap between digital natives and advertisers. iPad-fetisjist twittering twenty-somethings just don’t speak advertiser-language.
  5. Many traditional agencies still work like a traditional agency.

So for me, Pieter’s leave should be a warning. For the future, have your eye on Yourneighbours and Nalden, who are glimpse of advertising’s future.

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