The FT has an interesting piece about clients poaching agency staff to fill in-house positions. It claims that "current levels of client poaching pose a major challenge for the industry." This makes little sense. Agency staff often move in-house. Of course, there will be times in the economic cycle when it’s more prevalent (more in a downturn than an upturn as now) and times in a year when churn is common (e.g. after vacations when people have time to ponder their lot). But logically it can’t be a challenge since the rules of supply and demand preclude excess staff pilfering.
The large companies cited, such as Accenture and Microsoft, need agencies. It’s not an ‘either or’ situation – they need agency support to bring depth and breadth to their campaigns. So while the balance between agency staff numbers and in-house staff numbers may waver, the overall industry will not be endangered.
Curiously the piece goes on to claim that such poaching is damaging to agencies. This from an un-named source to whom it has happened three times in one year. Well, most savvy agency principals recognize this is a potential risk and take steps to prevent it. After all, it’s pretty tempting from a client’s perspective to take a strong agency team member in-house. So it’s wise to take precautions. You don’t want clients stealing your product so a contractual deterrent pays dividends.
Personally, I think it’s an asset if former-staff eventually end up client-side. They know the agency, and frequently they’ve appointed the firm on the basis of track record, trust and low risk. I can’t see how that will bring us to our knees.