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News Plus 6 Dec 2021 - 3 min read

Indies predict big growth, pitch fests in 2022, but talent crunch and back to work mandates may torpedo plans

By Brendan Coyne - Editor
Sam Buchanan Tom Frazer

Independent media agencies are almost all predicting big growth in 2022. But amid talk of a looming post-Covid pitch palooza, a deepening talent crunch may scupper those plans – especially for the four in ten indies mandating staff return to the office. They may find themselves targeted by rivals touting work anywhere, anytime arrangements.

What you need to know:

  • Indy media agency association the IMAA has polled 450 members and found almost all project growth in 2022.
  • But six in ten say the talent pool is poor – which may hamstring their ability to take on new clients.
  • Meanwhile brands are likely to get back on the pitch circuit after 18-months of Covid bunkering.
  • That could exacerbate poaching – and agencies with more flexible working arrangements could end up winning both the talent race, and the incoming 'pitch palooza'.
  • Back to office mandates could prove costly. 

A lot of clients have got through Covid and lockdowns and are now looking to make changes and see what’s next. So I think both indies and global holdcos will see a lot of pitch activity next year.

Tom Frazer, Managing Partner and GM, Half Dome

Shift or bust

Australia’s independent media agencies fear a “very poor” talent pool may undermine growth prospects in 2022 amid predictions of a post-Covid surge in brands reviewing agency arrangements.

A survey of more than 450 indy agency staff – including founders and CEOs – found almost nine in 10 expect to increase business and billings over the next calendar year.

But six in ten suggested a “poor” or “very poor” talent pool could scupper those ambitions, according to the IMAA poll.

Meanwhile, the survey found 58 per cent of indy agencies have kept flexible or hybrid office-remote working arrangements in play. But that suggests 42 per cent have told staff to return to the office.

IMAA General Manager Sam Buchanan expressed “surprise at that finding”.

“If we have a talent crisis on our hands, that puts a lot of power into staff and employee’s hands,” he said, yet some agencies “have cracked the whip”.

While some staff have “relished” returning to the office, Buchanan said the talent crunch is limiting indies’ ability to take on new business, regardless of set-up. He thinks that could contribute to pitch pressure in the first half of next year, with agencies currently turning down new business opportunities due to resource constraints.

He cautioned that brands planning post-pandemic agency shake-ups will need to accept that reality – and pay agencies to pitch across tight reviews rather than fish for ideas from a long-list.

Palooza incoming

While Buchanan said resourcing issues across the board may temper talk of a post-Covid pitch fest, Tom Frazer, Managing Partner and GM at Melbourne-based indy Half Dome, thinks a palooza is incoming.

“A lot of clients have got through Covid and lockdowns and are now looking to make changes and see what’s next. So I think both indies and global holdcos will see a lot of pitch activity next year.”

He thinks that will exacerbate talent issues and likely drive up inter-agency poaching, where flexibility of working arrangements may ultimately determine which firms have the talent to win new business while retaining existing clients.

Should that situation arise, it may be that agencies with rigid policies around working from the office lose out, and may find themselves the target of talent raids by rivals touting more flexible arrangements.

Attitude adjuster

Frazer thinks both holdcos and indies need to better balance that equation to retain and win both staff and clients in 2022.

He said Half Dome has halved churn by running fully flexible terms since the start of 2021. Next year, he said the agency will operate on a “remote workplace first” basis.

“It’s about outputs, not about working in an office … and amid a talent shortage, it’s making it easier for us to recruit,” added Frazer.

“We still have attrition – last week somebody left to go and live on a farm, so the ‘great resignation’ is real", he said, as people seek to control what they can control.

"We’re hoping that next year when borders open, if we focus on our people and our clients, we will be okay. We’re by no means out of the woods…. But what we are saying is ‘what makes you happier, what will give you a better life?’ If staff want to work four days but get paid for five – as long as they get their work done, great. It shouldn’t really matter where they do it.”

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