In a conversation I recently had with a CEO of a media agency, we were discussing the difficulties of finding good local talent. Forget top level executives, he was of the view that even on a junior level, finding enthusiastic passionate individuals was close to impossible.
And he is not alone in his views. Often the woes of the ad world that are echoed throughout the industry are centred around the lack of talent. Furthermore, he added if graduates did in fact look to join the ad industry (#blessed), most of the time, the creative guys would get the first pick. Media agencies were hardly ever on the radar.
And this is because of the lack of awareness of what exactly media agencies do. Media agencies, while brilliant at marketing for their clients, fail to do so when it comes to their own brands.
Goh Shu Fen, principal consultant of R3 and president of the Institute of Advertising Singapore (IAS), agreed to the point that media agencies have not been fantastic at branding and defining what value they bring to the table beyond the simple buying and planning duties.
According to recent IAS research, ad agencies locally, as it is, are paying at least 20% less than most industries. This is not even comparing it to higher paying sectors such as finance and banking. Hence, making the industry look attractive is a must if new blood and creativity is to enter the world of advertising.
“Relative to more mature markets in the west, the understanding of what marketing means is vague, and hence, the respective domains within the sector even more nebulous. The advertising industry is perceived rightly so to be a creative industry and therefore creative agencies tend to be the first port of call for any graduates who may not be considering a career in advertising,” Goh said.
From R3’s own consulting experience, Goh added the consulting team had often had to re-educate senior stakeholders for the need for media agencies to be more strategic partners beyond buying. She said:
Media agencies need to behave more like investment planners than real estate agents. Clients need to take a more strategic view on how they spend and account for over 80% of their marketing budget.
In a separate conversation, Jacqui Lim, managing director of Havas Media, also agreed the fault lies in the industry not coming together to market itself as a whole.
“This is very much unlike the creative agency folks who actively know how to beat their own drum and make a name for themselves,” she said.
According to Lim, even students who are actually clued into the advertising industry, suffer from a perception issue as to what the media industry does. As for those who did not study media/marketing/advertising in school, a career in the media agency world is not even on their radar or consideration.
Despite all their advancements, media agencies are typically perceived as being less creative, more data-driven and reporting-heavy – which could lead fresh grads to think the job is not as interesting compared with creative agencies.
Giving the example of the recent career fair organised by the IAS which was open to all tertiary institutions, Lim and Goh said most media agencies did not take the opportunity to market themselves.
This was despite the event being a targeted platform for media folks to market their agencies and establish a strong share of voice to fresh blood emerging from school each year.
While the media agency field today has come a long way with a lot of depth in specialised areas, where it has been lazy is in its push for visibility and recognition.
“There is definitely a lack of understanding of what we do and the fact that media agencies are no longer just all about straight-off media planning and buying. Moreover, our offices also tend to look less impressive and we know such factors still do matter to fresh grads,” Lim said.
Patricia Goh, managing director of Starcom Mediavest Group Singapore, said the search for talent was always a struggle and the trick was in getting creative in the types of candidates being hired. The advertising industry today needs critical thinkers, so in addition to looking to marketing schools for talent, SMG heads to scientific disciplines for a more diversified talent pool.
“We are somersaulting our way into new talent pools like engineering, financial institutions and the info-communications industry where we hire based on attributes, bypassing direct competition,” she said.
Do the creative folks have it easy?
The answer coming from creative folks is in the negative, but for reasons that are completely different.
What constitutes the creative industry has changed significantly now. Chris Willingham, CEO of BBDO Singapore, said the creative sector now included media agencies who were increasingly offering creative solutions, clients with in-house creative departments and, of course, the many tech businesses and start-ups.
I agree that, generally, traditional creative agencies have had stronger brands than their media counterparts, mostly due to the fact that historically they’ve delivered a tangible output that sometimes has their name attached in mass media.
However, with the shift in what the world of creative means, there is greater competition than ever for attracting true creative talent. This is making it especially challenging for agencies as a whole to attract the very best, whether they’re creative or media shops.
Competition has also intensified as the likes of Google and Facebook claim a chunk of the talent that might have found itself working at creative agencies just a few years ago.
Rumki Fernandes, regional director for talent and HR for APAC at Grey Group, added that creative agencies have their own set of challenges as far as recruiting the right talent. Creative agencies, because of the massive takeover of the world of data and digital, today need tech-savvy folks with broad skill sets and out-of-the-box thinking.
Like Willingham, she was also of the view that the talent craved by the creative world today overlaps the Silicon Valley type of jobs, tech start-ups, product companies and social media outfits out there.
Overcoming the issue – is HR to be blamed?
It hardly comes as a surprise the responsibility for attracting fresh talent has to start from the top. However, if the issue of a lack of talent has been around for years, does this mean the HR and talent teams are failing to understand what the industry needs?
“If we are truly passionate about what we do and are vested in attracting the best fresh talent for the agency, it is important to invest the time and effort of the senior folks in the agency in the hiring process,” Havas Media’s Lim said.
Management teams need to actively craft guidelines on investing in fresh graduates to join the teams, and work hand-in-hand with HR to attract fresh people into the agency. Simply handing the HR teams a guidebook on what is needed in today’s changing media landscape is not enough.
SMG’s managing director Goh also added that in the agency it is not the HR department’s KPI to find talent. At every level in the hierarchy, managers, directors and CEOs should have their own customised needs and relationships with talent they would like to hire.
“We have all hired or been hired this way. Our policy is it’s not just finding the talent, it’s being the right company for the talent,” she said.
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