4As Malaysia on ad world brain drain: Agencies need to create 'stickiness'

The Association of Accredited Advertising Agents of Malaysia (4As) has spoken up about the issue of brain drain in advertising, saying that agencies must embrace talent development and training as a key component of their business development.

Referencing an article by The Star titled "Stop the brain drain in advertising" published on 20 January, CEO Khairudin Rahim (pictured) said while it is certainly true that the industry suffers from brain drain, advertising is not unique in this respect, with the problem extending beyond the creative industries. He added that this is also a global phenomenon that everyone faces, not just in Malaysia.

Furthermore, the migration of talent from agencies to the client side is not merely a trend.

Instead, it is a new reality exacerbated by shifts occurring in the wider advertising ecosystem over the past decade, Khairudin added.

"While the world has changed around us, agency heads must ask themselves whether or not they are stuck in the past. To attract a new generation of creative people, agencies need to show what impact their work will have on the client and in society," he explained.

Is the work creative and effective? Does it make clients more successful, improve the lives of consumers, and contribute to society?

Traditional companies are unlikely to hold on to this new generation of talent unless more fluid and flexible environments are provided, Khairudin said. According to him, the establishment of innovation hubs, start-up incubators, and time to pursue personal projects in some industries are examples of how an entrepreneurial drive can be directed to the benefit of both the individual and companies. The consequence is a culture that thrives on curiosity and inspiration which will create a more interesting environment and enjoyable place of work.

Instead of sitting idly, the 4As believes that ad agencies can take matters into their own hands by identifying pre-emptive actions that can be taken to reduce the occurrence of talent drain, and improve “stickiness”. "Most of all, agencies need to embrace talent development and training when making new hires. For agency heads to fall on the oft repeated excuse that staff will leave after receiving training is simply putting the cart before the horse," Khairudin said.

Continuous Professional Development (CPD) should be viewed neither as a burdensome duty nor a philanthropic gesture towards the staff. Instead, CPD is an essential investment that makes hard-nosed commercial sense and contributes towards the continued success of any agency, he added. The 4As is currently partnering with the Chartered Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) in the UK to offer a range of internationally recognised online qualifications.

The more you know, the more commercially viable you are.

According to Khairudin, clients see better value in agencies where practitioners have been through specific learning and development programmes, giving the clients greater confidence that they will receive effective solutions to marketing problems. He added that directing employees to obtain IPA qualifications and attend the 4As/IPA courses "is a no-brainer" as they can directly apply what is learned to their jobs the very next day. Investment in CPD ultimately reduces staff churn while increasing client and staff satisfaction scores, creating new business wins and boosting profitability, Khairudin explained.

"Agencies that give their staff extensive learning opportunities are able to attract, grow, and retain the best talent in a fiercely competitive landscape. Staff who feel appreciated tend to perform well and deliver better work. These are some of the factors that affect staff retention, not just salary," he said.

Over a year ago, the 4As has taken the lead in assessing the state of the industry, conducting a comprehensive salary survey with the results shared to participating 4As member agencies last January. The data enables the agencies to offer competitive remuneration to help recruit and retain talent.

"We would emphasise once again that agencies must embrace talent development and training as a key component of their business development. If you think training is expensive, consider the price of ignorance," he added.

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