Picking Pink Squid’s brains on early talent

Picking Pink Squid’s brains on early talent


Co-founders, Tsz Wu and Manjoor Azizul, ran into our own Spike Turner at the RADs and started talking early talent. With so much to chat about, and so little time to spare amongst the celebrations, we decided to catch up at a later date. That time is now.

How do you tackle early talent at Pink Squid?

Tsz – “We had a bit of a eureka moment a while back when we were pitching for the Cadbury graduate account. We’d decided to take along one of our graduate starters to the pitch for a bit of experience, as she’d got really involved in the research. When we got to the pitch, the HR Director only wanted to listen to Susie. And we realised… that's the way to do it. It has to be about them, not us.

“Whether we call on our interns, or our graduate intake, we keep it as fresh, real and raw as possible. No matter what Manj and I would like to think, we’re outsiders. We’re not the target audience. So we make sure that people who are, are involved in the early talent work – both strategic and creative – at every stage.”

Do you think you do anything differently?

Tsz – “Not as such. We might weight who we listen to differently to others. We listen more to the people we have internally who are closest to the market we’re targeting. And we critique everything we do as we go along. Just recently we were going in to present concepts for one client. It was all really, really lovely artwork. But one of our ex-apprentices – Josh – looked at it and said of one route ‘It feels like an uncle trying to act cool on a dance floor.’ And we were like, really? All that hard work! But we listened and we ditched it and took the remaining two concepts in. We don’t mind being bold and dropping things if it’s the right thing to do. Our client was fine with it because they respected our decision, as they know we're not going to just throw things under their nose.”

Manj - “I think if we do anything slightly differently it's down to the kind of playful approach we have to what we do. But you can only get that when we get trust from the client. It sounds clichéd but we have to take on their problem. If we just turn into a service, it leaves me dead. It’d be like, ‘oh right, we're just a production house and we're just bashing out some campaigns’.

“We’ve got to be that person in those shoes. We need to understand that persona. We need to understand that audience. Our clients really feel we’re fighting their corner. That’s because we challenge them and we know our stuff. It’s earned their trust, and the client implicitly knows we’re on their side. We know what their challenges are. We know how it's going to change their business by having these new types of people in. There’s then this kind of belief, so they say, ‘guys go and get us these people’. But if we're in a relationship where it’s a case of questioning headlines and art direction and who's getting what kick-back on what media, then we're having the wrong dialogue.”

You recently won ‘The best student marketing campaign award (for organisations recruiting more than 50 graduates a year)’ at the TARGETjobs Awards. What was it that clinched it?

Tsz – “We love these awards as they’re judged by students. And whilst the creative was on point, this was really a data led ‘win’. “

Manj – “Now it’s rarely about the creative. Great creative is a nice to have, but our clients aren't looking for that stuff anymore… or at least the weighting has shifted. When it comes to creative, they’re like, ‘yeah, cool, you've articulated our proposition. Have you done it in a fun, engaging way?’ Yes. ‘But how are you going to talk to these people? To reach these people’. That's where it becomes really creative. Your playground is your playground. But it’s all about what games you are going to play in that playground. That’s the strategy. That’s what gives you results.”

Tsz – “And that’s what happened with Deloitte. It took us a year to generate the data we needed before we could really start to deliver. Let’s take Tax as an example. Tax is a really hard one, by its nature. There are loads of preconceptions – it’s boring and very few people, particularly females, want to do it.

“First we looked at getting a benchmark. It was more about data calibrating and how we implemented tags to track who was coming through. And we added some conscious or non-conscious bias words or terms, to see what impact it would have.

“For example, ‘tax’ as a phrase turned the female audience off. But by simply adding the word ‘solutions’ to read ‘tax solutions’ it generated an extra 25% more females. Other tweaks revolved around well-known research into the fact that males love bullet points and females prefer description. By tweaking these tiny things, putting tags against them and measuring it to hit who we wanted to hit, we got real results.”

What other early talent work have you been doing that you've been proud of?

Tsz – “Jaguar Land Rover has been interesting. They have a very complex structure around apprenticeships and graduates.

“Apprenticeships are really interesting right now. It tends to be more about targeting the influencers. Five or ten years ago, that was their mum, dad or careers adviser… now it could be a gamer on Twitch that they watch on YouTube. These influencers could be the same age as the people we’re trying to influence – so we need to talk to them at a younger age, perhaps twelve to thirteen, so that they’re informed by the time they’re sixteen (without discounting that there’s room for older apprentices too). It’s so exciting.

“And whilst clients like Boots get it (as they see what can happen when a vlogger raves about one of their products and the impact it has on sales), we've got a long way to go in terms of recruitment. We know they’re connected tightly, it's a case of getting buy-in.”

Is that a direction you feel targeting early talent – particularly for apprentices – is heading?

Tsz – “Totally. We’re helping our clients see that ‘influencers’ are changing. Yes, the traditional ones are still important, but there’s a whole load of ‘invisible influencers’ that we need to reach out to. I think clients get it, but it’s going to take a bit of a leap of faith to take that to the next level. “

Manj - “As Tsz said, consumer advertising has taken that leap. And whilst historically recruitment has always been the poorer cousin, they're kind of becoming aligned. We’re really adopting those tactics.  

“Let’s take fashion for example. Some of the biggest fashion brands at the moment are the newer brands that have got a massive Instagram following, like Supreme and Off-White – they’re skateboard brands. People would never respect them in the fashion world, right? But the way they do marketing and the way they get a following on Instagram, means young people follow them. They’re cool. Off the back of that ‘cool’ you get someone like Louis Vuitton approaching Supreme and asking to do a collaboration.

“I can see that happening in recruitment. It feels like we’re heading down a path where we need to host a conversation rather than telling grads and apprentices how they should feel about a company.  Let them accidentally stumble onto stuff. Let them appreciate on their terms whether a company is cool or not and let them make their own minds up.”

What would you like to see more of in the early talent market?

Tsz – “It’s probably what I’d like to see less of. It’s like Manj says, we see a lot of ‘telling’ graduates about what they’ll be doing. And yet when people are hiring they’re often focussing on a potential candidate’s attitude and behaviour. It would be good to see them taking that to the next level and employing them to a role that they can define. For example, we’ve worked for Jaguar Land Rover for four or five years. At the start it was all about ‘power train’ and ‘horse power’ and making combustion engines more efficient. In the blink of an eye, four years later, it's all about converting to electrification. They've just moved on and I think sometimes that's where graduate careers could go.”

Manj - “The same for apprentices. I had trouble choosing my GCSEs and yet we’re asking them to go from that to choosing a life career? It's unrealistic to even have that type of dialogue. They’re expected to go from an environment where they have many bosses: teachers, a football coach, their mum, dad and older brother… they then move into an environment where they have one line-manager. That’s a big leap for them and we need to help them.

One of our apprentices joined us after sending in a neat video. On his first day, he turned up like he was dressed for court. I said ‘dude, you can wear what you want here’.  He loved it. He also put his hand up to go to the toilet. And then it hit me. This guy doesn't know anything apart from school and college. He wanted to know when his break time was. I realised there's a massive gap between school/college and an apprenticeship in the work place, so brands have to accommodate. It’s important that they have a culture and an environment that can sustain a development of an apprenticeship mind. It’d be good to see more employers recognise that.”

Tsz – “And these young adults have a different outlook on work in general. When Manj and I started out we used to work long hours, had to wear suits, you cancelled things to get the job done… Early talent nowadays don't live for work like we did. But that doesn’t mean they’re not committed. They just feel that flexible working should be a given, as they need to go at five-thirty because they’ve got a yoga session, or whatever. But that doesn’t mean they don’t want the promotion.”  

What was the best early talent campaign you presented that never hit the market?

Tsz – “It was one we presented a couple of months ago and the brief asked for authenticity. Created by one of our junior teams, it was quite brilliant. Our research showed that the target candidates for this campaign would want the messaging to be quite real and to the point. They created an almost anti-creative campaign, where the focus was on the messaging. It was a bit of a cynical meme. It was incredibly brave and if it had gone ahead it could’ve done great things… in the end, it was deemed a bit too close to the edge. But it was fantastic.”

If you could work on any early years talent campaign, what would it be and why?

Manj – “It’s too obvious working on something cool and making it cooler. I like to work on something that needs shaking up. Something like the Law Society. The legal profession says they’d like it to be on an even playing field, for it not be class biased. Yet its history and sense of tradition help to feed that reputation. My brother is a barrister and I remember having to sit at dinners at Lincoln's Inn because it was all part of the tradition. I love history and tradition, but this felt archaic. Take the royal family… whilst they're steeped in tradition and heritage, they’re moving with the times. From lessons learned in the past they’re actually adapting their own brand with how society's going. I wonder why aren't all organisations doing the same? I’d love to take some of those organisations and make them relevant and attractive to fresh audiences.


Thursday, 24 May 2018

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