Cassandra Yates leads a small but mighty team. As VivaKi’s chief talent officer, Yates works to meet the talent requirements of a company with 150 employees state-side and another 80 outside of the United States. VivaKi was established by global marketing and communications firm Publicis Groupe in 2008 to propel the digital transformation and expertise of Publicis. Today, the agency exists to help scale paid media, ad tech, and data power to accelerate Publicis’s client growth. Yates recruits top tech talent to accomplish these goals. In a highly specialized and fast-moving ad-tech industry, the talent pool is small and the stakes are high. What works? What doesn’t? And how does Yates ensure VivaKi has the talent it needs to compete? Sync sat down with her to find out.
Sync: You’ve been with the company through many transitions, changes, and acquisitions. What’s most challenging about that?
Cassandra Yates: You have to stay close to the business and know where it’s going so you can help find, onboard, and develop the right people. It requires a lot of trust and communication. We’re asking our people to work closely with agency teams because we want to drive collaboration and accelerate growth for all of our clients.
Sync: What’s new out there? What’s changed in the last few years when it comes to recruiting top talent in tech?
Yates: It’s no longer just about people who have the technical knowledge and skills, who are always at a premium; we now have to find people who understand culture and who learn how to inspire and lead. It’s an interesting blend on the tech side of things because technical folks are often very black and white and not touchy-feely, front-of-the-room types. We need talent that can attract talent.
Sync: How do you find that talent? What works?
Yates: It’s tough. Anyone we hire, at any level, won’t fit our job description exactly, and we just have to embrace that. You have a wish list, and things that are nice to have, but you don’t find a person that checks all the boxes all the time. If we waited for the perfect candidate, we’d never fill a job. So we look at what skills they have and how we can develop them in the future. I think that’s what makes it work—the realization that although they might not have all the things we want on day one, we can spot people who are teachable. We can spot people who we can develop after we hire them.
Sync: You’re focusing on people with cross-channel skills. Why?
Yates: Until recently, the industry was very siloed with one person working on social and another on video or mobile—but we need to move away from this approach because media isn’t consumed in a silo. For us to make meaningful connections with people, we know we need to be more channel agnostic. So we’re looking for people who have skills across all disciplines. Again, we’re looking for the best candidates and then also building the training programs we need to end up with the right talent that matches our culture and our vision.
Sync: What’s it like for you to provide these services in a larger group of agencies?
Yates: It’s great to be part of something bigger because I’m connected to other global HR leads. We’re part of a holding company, so in some regards, we’re set up to compete for talent, but we work together to share ideas and best practices. I get to be more strategic.
Sync: How do you leverage technology in your own position?
Yates: There are so many ways because of our global make-up. We have to let our people around the world collaborate, and we want people to feel that they’re part of a larger organization and not just the five or hundred people they might see every day. So we’ve created programs to let our people connect, interact, and share knowledge. One platform uses profiles—showing our info and faces as well as work content—so we feel like we actually get to know each other despite distance. We do all-hands meetings and webinars and various other info-sharing initiatives to ensure regular connections.
Sync: What’s next?
Yates: We plan to keep moving forward to keep pace with the larger group, and we’ll stay close to them so we can really facilitate targeted growth across the board. Keeping on top of trends will help us stay on top of the talent game. It’s also important to keep our talent programs fresh and reflective of cultural trends and new tech and ways of communicating. If we can continue to establish the right programs to keep people engaged, it will helps us build a new set of experts who will drive the company moving forward.