As headhunters, we are the canary in the coal mine for the creative industry, the first to detect the direction of growth in our industry.

2023 saw much of the creative industries treading water. Senior hiring plans were put on pause. Decisions were delayed. Malaise set in. Yet our experience suggests that 2024 will be the year that the caged creative bird begins to sing. The long wait for senior creative talent is not only over, but a wider range of global agencies are investing in the talent they need now to achieve growth in 2025.

Over the past twelve weeks, we have placed four chief executive officers at major agencies. Decisions are faster and sharper. Succession planning has never been more vital to success. In the wake of a pandemic that placed so much of our personal and professional lives on hold, leaders are taking bold, decisive action in choosing change.

Embracing ambiguity

While the Bellwether predicts an upturn in advertising spending, tough decisions are unfolding at companies like Channel 4 and Dentsu. When great people are experiencing the sharp edges of redundancy, it is harder to recognize the bright spots within the wider economic turmoil.

The demand for transformational creative leaders is increasing. We are seeing a significant uplift in companies hiring senior roles in the UK and the US, particularly in the C-suite. Progressive agencies recognize that transformation involves investment in processes and technology and the creative leaders who will drive that change forward.

People over process

It is vital that agencies recognize that their top talent is tired of waiting for change. To hire top talent, they need to be decisive.

In a people-focused industry such as advertising, these decisions have a huge impact on business performance. Despite the flurry of investment in heavily branded AI tools and the move to create more processes in the agency ecosystem, the truth remains that top talent is your agency’s biggest differentiator.

As Jon Forsyth, founder and chief creative officer of Neverland Creative, told me during my research: “Clients are getting the idea that they are buying people, not agencies. If you speak to clients and find out what they bought on the pitch, most of the time, the conversation is around the people.”

It is an ecosystem, which means this small pool of leaders can make or break your business. James Murphy, the founder and chief executive officer of New Creative Arts, calls these leaders the ‘human software in the middle.’ In contrast, the network hardware of how agencies deliver work is more technology-driven and more commoditized.

“The value is reframed. There is work being driven by a small number of people on the agency side, working with a small number of people on the client side. That’s the real change,” he told me.

It is a shift that means hiring the right people has never been more pivotal to the long-term success of your business. As Nadja Bellan-White, chief executive officer of SS+K explained, “In today’s competitive market, agencies must analyze their entire growth strategically, including hiring practices. Talent is the most valuable capital any agency has, and the last thing you want is to be limited in how much new business you can onboard because you don’t have the right people—or enough people–to get the job done.”

Of course, agencies need to be mindful of right-sizing their talent pool to the amount of business they have and not overextend themselves. But if an agency doesn’t have a strong, diverse mix of talent, it will be limited in how much it is able to grow.

We believe that 2025 will be a pivotal year for the creative industries, driven by economic growth. Yet agencies that fail to invest ahead of the curve will face a double bind. Not only will they not have the talent in place to capitalize on this shift, but existing talent will also be heading out the door.

How agencies behave over the coming months will define their ability, or lack thereof, to capitalize on this opportunity. Market volatility is going nowhere. Leaders who can navigate this ambiguity with emotional intelligence and decisiveness are vital to driving a new era of sustainable, talent-focused growth.

Transformative leadership at the top has never mattered more.