Honest Reflections on 2023

Honest Reflections on 2023

Jen Kinnear
January 17, 2024

I’ve read my fair share of rose tinted 2023 reviews. I know there are absolutely pockets of industry that have flourished but in our corner of business I’m going to be frank and say things last year were “tumultuous” … A word chosen carefully for polite company!

Also.. spoiler.  This piece might start a little d&g but there is sunshine at the end so stick with it. 

For those of you who don’t know us / me. We’re 21 years old (the business, sadly not me) and as I’ve reached my 20 years in recruitment this year, this is not our / my first tricky market rodeo.  

2008 was horrific, Covid was worse. Then 2023 brought its own unique brew of challenges.

Growing socio-economic instability, impending war and a crippling cost of living crisis. All balanced on the bubble of the year before where we all enjoyed doing pretty well. Perhaps lulled by the bounce of 2021/22, things started going south before many people realised (I think) but we felt the impact of the mini budget of Sept 22 pretty immediately. We saw permanent roles being pulled and freelance gigs cancelled. The pendulum shifted from a candidate’s market to a client-led market -  but candidates (unless blessed with a rare skill set) didn’t necessarily realise this and that fell to us to try and support.

LinkedIn was awash with freelancers desperate for gigs, news of redundancies was flooding in from our clients and with that came recruitment freezes and a huge upsurge in applications for roles. We tried to help and took on 18% more candidates in 2023 than we did in 2022 whilst always repeating as a team that we would shore up our loyal Freelance base first. I hope if you are one of our Freelancers reading this that you have felt that.

Whilst the volume of opportunities we were supporting fell dramatically, there were some really positive partnerships forged and we were able to deliver some great results for the clients who were growing and cementing their teams. Our track record of filling perm roles (already stronger than average) grew by a further 12%. We also improved our Freelance fill rate - achieving an average of 91%. We also secured an uplift of an average of 10% pay for many of our Freelancers. We’re really proud of that one.

As we look to 2024, here are 5 influences / patterns we are already seeing that we anticipate will continue to shape the year ahead:

1 - Brands - the power of in-house studios

For brands, the strategy to grow an inhouse studio continues as more businesses look to invest in their teams, trim external spend and retain creative control over their work. Read how this has been going in the retail sector in our latest piece .

2 - AI & Product / UX demand

Product and UX had a surge year and we do not anticipate this slowing down. Similarly - innovations in AI and associated tech are no longer theoretical conversations, they are real tangible briefs that we are delivering on. I’m cautious that predicting AI as a growth area can feel threatening to some of our Creatives but the good news is that (anecdotally at least) we are seeing attitudes to AI as being positive for streamlining repetitive tasks, freeing up valuable creative resources and driving down the cost of production NOT as a silver bullet replacing crucial creative skill sets.

3 - Trump or Biden, Sunak or Starmer. Is it Coming Home?

We’re anticipating a busy year for many of our key Agencies - with a Presidential election and of course our own General Election both happening in 2024 there will be plenty to talk about. An exciting summer of sport with the Euros, T20 Cricket World Cup and not forgetting the Olympics should all give our Agency clients in particular a surge.  

4 - David v Goliath

It’s true that hiring freezes and other signs of caution are still impacting some of our larger brand and agency clients but this is creating an amazing opportunity for challenger brands who are more nimble and are able to be more aggressive right now. We have seen a 37% uplift in briefs from mid sized brands across beauty / retail / FMCG. Some of the hottest functions in Agency land right now are Strategy & Business Development - we have had a 21% growth in demand!

5 - A break from tradition

Clients are feeling more cautious about spending on recruitment fees but candidates have a reluctance to leave secure roles. The pressure for some is shifting from “time to hire” to more price driven decisions. We have seen a surge in Clients wanting to talk about partnership models of recruitment rather than straight contingency. Contact me here to book in for a chat if this model is something you are curious about.

Whatever happens in 2024. We’re poised and ready for it and we’ll be capturing even more information to share with you in our upcoming 2024 Market Review which will be published to coincide with the start of the new financial year. We’d love you to contribute - you can find the link here.

Thank you so much to those of you who have worked with us and supported our business over the past year. We are so grateful for the wonderful clients and candidates we work with, you make us love what we do. Thank you also to my team, your loyalty and dedication through tricky times has been remarkable and as I looked around at you all at our Annual NY breakfast last week - I felt such pride in you all.

Finally, I hope you’ll forgive the lack of veneer on some of the things I’ve shared. I’m hoping that by being a little more open - some of you will feel a sense of relief that last year wasn’t personal, it wasn’t just you but also that - crucially - I firmly believe that things are on their way to getting better.  In all my time in this business, I have never felt more confident that we’re bringing our A Game into the new year. 

Good luck, health and happiness to you all.


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