Many long-time clients and creative talent may know Aquent as a staffing company. But as companies around the world struggle with digital transformation initiatives, new technology, and reams of data, Aquent has broadened its reach. Now it offers a suite of products and services designed to help companies find the right kind of creative, marketing, and digital talent to solve their most pressing challenges. Put simply, "we help businesses adapt to change," said John Chuang, co-founder and chairman of Aquent.
Chuang appeared on CEO Corner, a show on New England Cable News (NECN) that hosts in-depth interviews with business leaders based in the New England area. He was joined by two successful creatives who work with Aquent as talent - strategic art director and graphic designer Lisa Courtney and freelance designer and developer Seth Lincoln.
Chuang, Courtney, and Lincoln discussed the history, methods, and philosophy behind what Aquent does and how it does it. From strategy to tactics, the segment also provides a useful overview of the Gig Economy and how Aquent enables companies to access more freelance workers to drive large-scale digital initiatives.
A Consistent Focus on Technology To Build Careers
When Chuang co-founded the company in 1986, Aquent was more of a traditional temp agency providing talent with Mac-related skills. That niche focus positioned it as an early leader among talent and clients working at the intersection of creativity and technology. Aquent became one of the first agencies to provide creative, digital, and marketing services as the business world rushed to leverage the Internet for competitive advantage.
Now, Aquent has grown to be the largest marketing staffing firm with 4,500 employees and 38 offices around the globe. Chuang says embracing and a deep understanding of technology – most recently AI and machine learning – have helped the company stay competitive in what is now known as "the gig economy." “Some people look at artificial intelligence and machine learning as taking away jobs," said Chuang. "We use those tools to find people great work."
Adapting to the Gig Economy
Chuang defines the Gig Economy simply as a new way for firms to make projects happen. Aquent's talent "come in and do specific tasks, to get projects done… It’s almost like a Hollywood model, where the best and the brightest for a team, get the job done for a company and then disperse."
Into this new world of temporary engagements, Aquent brings the strength and security of long-term professional relationships and progressive career development. When she is not on assignment for Aquent, for instance, Courtney makes use of Aquent Gymnasium, which provides continuous training and ongoing professional enrichment through MOOCs, or Massively Open Online Courses.
How Aquent Retains the Best Talent
Aquent focuses on retention first and recruiting second. It builds strong, long-term relationships with top digital talent, offering access to rare professional roles along with the same benefits as full-time employees. Aquent’s agents help talent source and land their next assignment, and the company provides opportunities for professional development through Gymnasium’s course offerings. By retaining and delighting in-demand talent, much of Aquent's recruiting takes care of itself through positive word of mouth.
Aquent offers opportunities that challenge talent to improve themselves. On assignment, Lincoln honed his skills in interactive design for the world’s largest PR firm, while Courtney discovered a penchant for social media marketing. As it relates to helping talent like Lincoln and Courtney progress in their careers, Aquent’s purpose is to "make great fits," Chuang says.
In many instances, temporary contractors through Aquent are eventually taken on by clients as full-time employees. “If we were a straight-on consulting firm, we’d probably prohibit it," Chuang says of this common practice, known as temp-to-perm hiring. "As a staffing firm, we offer it as a service... it's almost like dating before you get married."
Using Diversity for Competitive Advantage
When selecting digital and creative professionals with whom to build these relationships, Chuang and Aquent place a premium on diversity. Indeed, 32% of Aquent's talent base now consists of people of color, and 58% is female. "We work very hard to get a work population that looks like America. By and large, we’ve done that, and we’ve done that through culture," said Chuang.
This isn't just a positive practice; it's what top clients expect from the firm, as demographic diversity leads to a diversity of ideas and understanding. “Homogeneity and very insular thinking just doesn’t work," Chuang said. If you missed the CEO Corner segment on NECN, you can still watch it here.