Even in the hyper-focused niche of creative staffing agencies, Aquent holds a unique position. Operating 75 offices on four continents, this overlord of design placement firms finds talent for two-thirds of the Fortune 500, and in their 20+ year role as AIGA's Official Professional Development partner, has operated one of the largest and most referenced graphic and web design salary surveys on earth. Owing to this exceptional credibility, it's no great surprise that Aquent's San Francisco and Silicon Valley offices place a lot of designers in the region's renowned innovation centers; design- and tech-driven firms whose successes often hinge on getting highly specialized and qualified talent on board right now.
Terra Dehnert and Corey O'Brien work right in the middle of all this action as Account Managers in Aquent's SF office, and they've agreed to share some of their expertise for free. First off, Terra's guest post on Assessing Creative Freelancers from last month's Creative Seeds outlines strategies for interviewing and portfolio review, and it's a must read for those new to creative hiring. For readers in the Bay Area, though, October 21st is the date to save--they'll be co-presenting a morning workshop on The Subtle Art of the Creative Talent Search, as part of the SF installment of the Coroflot Creative Confab. In typical Confab fashion, we've asked a pair of introductory questions to Terra and Corey on the state of creative hiring in the Bay Area, present and future.
You've mentioned that a large fraction of your local clients are Bay Area tech firms and startups; is this a recent thing, or has the Silicon Valley crowd always considered creative talent a necessary component?
In a nutshell, yes. I think the Silicon Valley crowd and startups have always considered branding very important, but in the past let the creative slide a bit after the initial identity, collateral materials and website were created. It seems like recently we have seen the next generation of the .com's--those who have stuck around and are realizing the brand and experience they created for their customers in 2000 is no longer relevant as well as those companies that are just coming into the world now.
I placed a Creative Director with a startup company last year that was just on the brink of success. They had to take their brand, design and overall creative process to the next level in order to attract the client base they had always dreamed of having. Bringing on a senior creative was really their only way of accomplishing all of these tasks in a concise fashion. I think creative teams can take the ideas of a group of people and communicate them to the outside world in a relevant way, which will always make them important, especially to tech firms and startups who don't always have this support initially.
There's been a lot of press over the last five years or so about the need for Innovation, with a capital I, in business. Economy notwithstanding, has this perception had an impact on the sorts of staffing requests you get, and the types of designers you're looking for?
Definitely! When I was hired on at Aquent our clients were rarely asking for interactive, web development and UI talent; now it is one of the fastest growing areas for us, and the most in-demand. As the way business-to-business, business-to-consumer and even consumer-to-consumer communication changes in our world, so do the hiring needs for our clients. I know companies that solely hire people to manage their Twitter and Facebook presences. I also just received a request for a designer to specifically work on and manage email campaigns, nothing else. There is a whole world of best practices and strategy just for email. Even 5 years ago this wasn't the case.
On the print side, clients are also having to reinvigorate the way they connect with their audiences. They are stepping outside of the box to more impactful campaigns that will grab the attention of their audiences: interesting photography, extremely strong tag lines, eye catching colors. Direct mail has to have "interactive" components to it, almost like packaging. Packaging has to stand out on the shelf next to twice as many brands as it used to. Because of all this our clients have been coming to us even more for very specific higher level design backgrounds--they want talent who can bring new ideas to the table on the design side, and on the production side, talent who have worked with complicated pieces and unique materials.
For entrepreneurs, hiring directors, and design professionals who hire creative talent, Dehnert and O'Brien's workshop is an extraordinary opportunity to hear what works and what doesn't, from some of the most qualified staffing specialists in the field. The workshop, along with an afternoon panel discussion featuring recruiters from IDEO, LinkedIn and 24 Seven, makes this the richest offering yet in the ongoing Creative Employment Confab series. Check out the Confab page for details and registration info.
Coroflot's Creative Employment Confab
Wednesday, October 21, 2pm - 6pm (workshops: 10am - noon)
The Autodesk Gallery
One Market Street, San Francisco, CA