Does advertising need PR to attract talent?

Talking to a group of bright-eyed Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA) students, worldwide chief creative officer of Grey Group, Tor Myhren, emphasised on the need to create impactful work that becomes a part of the pop culture conversation.

Students listened to Myren talk with leporine ears all seemingly interested in what the senior ad exec had to say about “great creative work” churned out by adland.

Still, is advertising’s for-consumption creativity enough to sell itself as an industry? The booming start-up and tech sectors have led to an exponential increase in more attractive career options that are available today. As these fields continue to vie for top talent, does advertising need any PR to attract top creative minds to the industry?

Myhren told Marketing ad agencies should produce great work that speaks for itself and that in general, advertising does not need PR when it comes to attracting new talent to the industry.

This view has been met with criticism by those who saw the statement as not only idealistic, but also impractical and navel gazing, at best.

Let's be real

Goh Shu Fen, principal at R3 Worldwide, said the CCO's view does not come as a surprise to her: “It’s probably shared by many in the industry, hence the historical lack of concerted effort to attract talent, and the current talent crisis we face.”

“That’s akin to companies like P&G saying we just need to make great products, we don’t have to worry about being the most attractive marketing company to work for.”

Challenging Myhren's assertion, Fiona Bartholomeusz, managing director of Formul8, said, “Assuming that great work is single-handedly able to lure good grads is based on the assumption that a) young adults know what they want when they graduate b) or that they can recognise it when they see it c) or that work alone fuels a young adult’s aspirations and dreams – I don’t think that’s true today.”

"You’d be surprised at the number of new grads at 21-22 years of age who’ve done generic degrees and have no idea on what to pursue and also may not be clued into what’s new in the ad world.”

What does "great work" even mean?

Merely producing “great work” does not suffice when it comes to promoting the industry, given how subjective the term is. The definition of great work can range from one having bagged numerous awards – what makes the job glamorous - to generating brand awareness and sales– what makes it unglamorous.

“Attracting new grads on the premise of doing only creative award-winning ads just populates the myth that clients care only about awards and not about results. By doing so, you end up with a bunch of really disillusioned kids who realise that reality is a far cry from what they thought the ad industry would be," Bartholomeusz said.

Millennials have more options

Goh said the competition for creative talent is even more heated now with large publishers and platform owners such as Facebook, Google, Twitter all after the same talent pool.

Moreover, these firms offer not only potentially better creative opportunities, but are also perceived to be “cool” companies to work for. They are in essence, better marketed and better branded.

“Millennials everywhere are motivated by companies and causes that empower them, where they can make a difference in a relatively short time,” Goh added.

Bartholomeusz concurred with this view stating that realistically, millennials are motivated by earning potential offered by competing industries:

Let’s face it, advertising practitioners are one of the worst paid vis-à-vis the hours they put in. Millennials care about these things, not about the work.

Though agencies may not be able to win on salaries, Goh said they need to win on providing fresh graduates great on-the-job experience that offers more diversity of exposure.

Highlighting the reality of the grunt work expected at ad agencies, Bartholomeusz pointed out that grads are less likely to enter into an industry perceived to be less rewarding or fulfilling: “We are also in a rejections-based business, and the amount of undercutting by fellow agencies means that great work is often sold at price which is borderline insulting in relation to the efforts needed in producing it."

"These grads will most likely get paid more to do less elsewhere.”

What agencies can do

In luring more talent into the industry, PR is indispensable to the cause. “Every PR piece and news article that profiles the people, the work and the process that goes into making great campaigns and good agencies go far in making this an industry that’s attractive to an even more demanding breed of new graduates,” Bartholomeusz said.

She cited the example of SPH’s initiative of profiling agencies and ad entrepreneurs in its publication. This provides a way for new grads to learn that the industry is a worthwhile business and career to pursue.  She said: “It can also be fun for those who don’t want to chase their parent’s dreams of becoming yet another banker or accountant.”

In resolving this talent crunch, a total mindset change from top-down is crucial. “We need to invest in proper graduate training programme, and that’s something IAS is working with EDB to launch in 2016,” Goh said.

Within adland, Bartholomeusz believes that fresh grads should be given more responsibility to successfully induct them into advertising. She added:

Let them be a part of pitches, client projects, involve them in the process, expose them to the triumphs and rejections, let them meet clients and learn. Pair the right accounts to their abilities and personalities.

Meanwhile, when it comes to cultivating an ideal creative learning environment, Myhren told Marketing, agencies must do more to eliminate the culture of fear.

“You have to let your people know that it’s okay to take chances and that it’s okay to fail. Because for a creative company to succeed, you have to also reward the people who are really pushing the envelope."

In today’s overcrowded media environment, nurturing talent in a business culture enables them to push the outer edge of what is possible. This, according to Myhren, ensures that creative work doesn’t fall into the “middle land of mediocrity”.

Read also: Why creative agency CEOs need not come from creative backgrounds

(Photo courtesy: Shutterstock)