Chief Talent Officer: A Multi-faceted Role

A great agency rises and falls on its talent. So how is talent managed? Theda Braddock speaks to the people who do the job.

Chief Talent Officer: A Multi-faceted Role

The Tricky Task of Managing Talent

Job definitions in the agency business are often fluid, but perhaps none more so than that of the of the Chief Talent Officer. Much like corporate culture, the CTO’s role varies from agency to agency. Clearly they’re concerned with handling talent, but depending on where they work, that job could involve recruitment, succession planning, driving agency reputation, setting up new offices, developing training programs, liaising with the leadership team or working alongside human resources – among other things.


We spoke with several key figures in the industry to get a clearer idea of what a CTO does – and how to become one.


Amy Panzarasa, Chief Talent Officer at Phenomenon, provides a succinct definition. “While we are a business that has an agenda to be successful, part of that success comes from taking care of the people who keep the business running.”


Sketching her career path, Amy says she started out as a “floater”, changing temp positions on an almost daily basis, which helped her get a solid grasp of agency life. “I was exposed to every aspect of advertising and could get to know everyone who worked at the agency.”


Patti Clarke, CTO of Havas, built her profile in the business information world. In the agency business, she started out as a chief of staff and then became an assistant corporate secretary. Running board meetings and supporting compliance and regulatory work put her in touch with executives, which ultimately led to the position of Chief Human Resources Officer. This and her later experience consulting in private equity, where she developed leadership-based HR tools, helped her gain an insight into working with sizeable companies.


Coincidentally, Niall Hadden, Global Chief Talent Officer at BBH, also started out in finance – in investment banking – before seeing the light. “Like many people who work in the area of talent management, it took some time, but I eventually found that it was the closest thing to what might be called my ‘career nirvana’.”


Working at the Architectural Association in London, he grew interested in the correlation between organizational performance and people management practices. Stimulated by this introduction to the cultural and creative world, he decided to continue down that route, but in a more commercial environment at the agency WCRS. He later founded his own HR consultancy before taking his expertise to BBH.


Alternatively, you could get in on the ground floor. François Barteau, HR Manager of Sid Lee Paris, joined the agency when it was less than 20-strong. Thanks to his early start, he knows the agency’s ins and outs like no-one else, which has allowed him to shape his own role. Over the last few years Sid Lee has seen major evolutions, with staff size quadrupling, an acquisition (Yard) and an office relocation. François points out that large-scale evolutions require careful management. “That sort of thing can be exhilarating, but can also lead to new issues, like conserving the agency’s initial DNA.”


Niall Hadden of BBH cautions that the pace of change is one of the role’s principal challenges. Another is making difficult decisions that can affect – or even curtail – a colleague’s role at the agency. Niall says it’s essential to know “when to be as hard as nails versus as nice as pie, but that only works when either is completely genuine and sincere to any given situation.”


Amy from Phenomenon shares that sentiment. “While there are definitely difficult decisions to be made, they can be made with the dignity of the individual in mind.” It’s important to “really know how to listen, work very hard at seeing both sides of a situation, be direct, but also feel compassion towards people and use all of those traits to problem solve fairly.”


The ability to listen is perhaps one of the most important skills required, agrees Patti at Havas. “It’s a balancing act of making sure you know and understand your various audiences while also be able to address their specific needs.”


That means being proactive as well as reactive, she points out. It’s important to push for innovation in the way a company listens to and develops its employees. Patti and her team have created several development programs that bring the worldwide Havas community together, such as the NextGen program for high potentials, or promoting mobility through Havas Lofts. Another recent program, Femmes Forward, aims to help more women rise into senior roles.


François Barteau says the founders of Sid Lee Paris have entrusted him with their confidence in part because they share the same values. “Above all else, find an agency where management has the same values as you,” he advises. “You can’t create an environment of benevolence if the founders don’t believe in it themselves.”


BBH’s Niall also stresses the importance of working for “agencies or companies that stand for something you value personally”, because then you can become a custodian of that brand’s values and beliefs.


He observes that all good advertising agency leaders are already preoccupied with talent management, “so the CTO needs to provide additional and valued expertise”. It’s important to understand that the role isn’t just about people management, he adds. “It’s about people, product and profit, and you really need to understand and care passionately about all three.”


The idea that “better performance equals better shareholder value” is one he picked up from his days in finance, and has carried over to the agency world.


Without people – without talent – there is no performance.