How to provide better career advancement opportunities to your employees

If agencies want to keep their best employees, they need to fix the major reason why people leave—the lack of a clear path to career advancement. High employee turnover rates are plaguing the ad industry. Many employees are not just leaving a specific agency, but leaving advertising altogether.According to research from LinkedIn and 4A’s, the top reason why advertising professionals leave the industry is because of the “lack of opportunities for advancement.”

Apart from keeping employees happy, there are other ways your agency can benefit from having clear career paths within the company:

  • Reducing turnover costs. The typical cost of turnover is roughly 21% of the employee’s annual salary. This can add up to a lot if your company has a high turnover rate. By keeping your employees satisfied and giving them ample advancement options within the company, you’ll be reducing both the financial and labor costs of finding, training, and maintaining replacements.
  • Top performers multiply their efforts. As top performers rise within your agency, they get to influence their other colleagues, especially when training or mentoring new recruits. Their training and experience gets reinvested back into helping your agency perform better and produce high quality work. This also makes succession planning easier.
  • Better recruitment. Clear career paths within your company can also help you attract potential employees for recruitment. According to Gallup researchers, unlike low quality job candidates, high quality candidates are likely to look for jobs that have opportunities for professional development and growth.

With these benefits, it makes sense for agencies to invest in finding and creating these career advancement paths, whether they have a turnover problem or not.

But how can agencies make this possible, when the path isn’t as defined in advertising?


Career advancement opportunities for your employees

Creating advancement opportunities for employees can be more difficult in advertising and marketing agencies, since traditional “career ladder” promotions don’t really apply to some positions, especially creative ones. For copywriters and designers, director positions appear to be the only next step. Here are some alternatives you can provide your staff, along with examples of agencies that are doing the same:


Career mentorship and assistance

It’s important to have a conversation with employees about their desired career trajectory within your agency. From when they are first hired, have regular check-ins with them on their professional goals and what paths your agency can offer that are relevant to those goals.

At MEC, a global media agency, they conducted employee surveys that allowed them to identify many different types of mentorship that their employees wanted: personal career development, increased knowledge about the industry, and learning more about a specific area or skill. These surveys helped the agency manually match employees with in-house mentors that can provide the type of mentorship they need.

Some companies even go above and beyond with their career assistance programs. Agency Metric Theory supports their employees in landing new jobs both inside and outside the company. But this approach is more about building a transparent relationship with employees. According to a profile on Ad Age, Metric Theory’s founders make a commitment to assist employees into reaching their professional goals, even if it’s outside the company. As co-founder Ken Baker told Ad Age, “If it’s two years, then we’ll have an open conversation about that, and what are you looking for next in your career, if it’s something Metric Theory can offer. If it’s not, how do we transition you out of your job and [help you with that] final career.”


High impact work

Sometimes, it helps to look outside the hierarchy when providing opportunities for growth. You can offer more access to higher impact work as your employees progress throughout their careers. This could mean offering them to work on bigger tasks, such as working with high profile clients or on projects that affect the company as a whole. Provide opportunities that may lead to industry recognition, awards, and the broadening of your employee’s network.

It’s easy to think of high impact as a mere residual of typical agency work, but it can be very attractive for quality workers who need a broader goal. In an interview with The Agency, designer Joris Rigerl talked about why he left the freedom of his freelancing life to work with Brooklyn-based agency Work & Co., “I was already working in a team and I was already working very collaboratively with clients and co-workers, but what was missing to me was having that environment where I could on the one hand work on stuff that was on a much, much bigger scale, and had a very big reach that just impacts a ton of people.”


Continued learning

Giving your employees a chance for continued learning can also help them find and create new opportunities for advancement. Developing these programs requires effort and resources, so find out what your team’s educational and career goals are before you fully commit. When you find the right program, it can be worth it. Companies that provide comprehensive training enjoy a higher profit margin and a higher income per employee.

To get the ball rolling, you can start with informal programs. AdRoll, an advertising technology company, has experienced employees teach colleagues via learning programs. They learn skills such as programming, project management, and even Zumba.

It’s important to provide avenues for formal learning as well. Ad agency Dixon Schwabl offers both informal and formal learning programs for employees. Among their formal learning programs is their on-site master’s degrees, which brings teachers to the Dixon Schwabl offices for weekly classes. With a program like this, it’s no surprise that the agency has a 91% retention rate. So far, six of their employees have received master’s degrees through the program.


Invest in employee success

Giving your employees the opportunity to advance their careers can help you improve retention rates, recruit high quality candidates, and drive top performers to increase their impact. To reap these rewards, don’t just rely on traditional promotions and career ladders. Instead, provide them with guidance, venues for higher impact work, and opportunities to learn.

Post by Celine Roque

Celine Roque is an independent author and marketer focused on entrepreneurship, marketing, and creative work. Her writing has appeared in Gigaom and The Content Strategist.