Finding and retaining digital marketing gems in Malaysia

The complaint on brain drain is not an uncommon, especially in the Malaysian marketing industry.

With young Malaysians becoming well connected and opportunities arising, a popular concern amongst both agency and client side marketers is that great talent is hard to find and even harder still to retain. This concern gets further amplified in the world of digital marketing, say many.

So where does one find great talent? In a panel discussion at the recent Digital Marketing Malaysia conference, Su Lin Lau, head of marketing at Maxis said it isn’t a matter of poaching from the agency side, like many believe it to be.

“We don’t actively look for gems from the agency side, although I am formerly from an industry. Rather when looking to hire, we look for someone who is restlessly curious, no matter what the role is,” she said.

Lau added that what is needed is for a breakdown of silos in looking for “digital talent” and “traditional talent”. To succeed, both criteria need to be met simultaneously as the worlds of online and offline merge.

It doesn’t make sense for companies to want someone with over ten years of professional experience for a digital role. Digital natives, in all probability, have not been in the workforce for that many years.

In order to train her teams to be proficient in digital marketing, she makes them take tests where everyone’s results are displayed on a giant screen. This name and shame tactic works in pushing everyone to do their best. She said all you can do as the more experienced marketer is get the process part out of the way so the younger talents can shine.

Ultimately you need to hire someone smarter, faster and cooler than you.

Agreeing with her was Timothy Johnson, SVP of marketing, products and partnerships of Inti International University. He said today life-long learning is necessary to keep up with the changes in the marketing world and ultimately the talent is only as good as the environment that enables them to be.

That is exactly the spirit he hopes to ignite in his students through on-going curriculum and partnerships within the industry, because in today’s world it is not about what you learn in the classroom but also outside experiences that make them relevant to the work force.

Often, what is learnt in school gets dismissed as “traditional”, agreed Johnson. By the time graduates enter the work-force, the modules they learn in school get deemed as old. Johnson said to counter this notion, having the right partners within the industry is vital and since experiences now also matter tremendously, early moulding of talent is necessary. As such the university has tied up with Google for its Ignite programme.

Google Ignite is a training-to-internship programme piloted by Google Malaysia. This year it is back for the second year and focuses on the development of digital marketing skills on Google platforms inclusive of certification for Malaysian university students.

Well aware of the hopes and aspirations of the youth today, Johnson explained that increasingly, the trend is the youths think they will be the face behind the next best app or discovery. He urges senior folks in the industry to nurture this idea but at the same time to allow the youth to fail.

While we need to foster talent, we also need to let our students fail fast and fail spectacularly. There is no point just coddling them.

Also speaking on the panel was Jon Day, marketing head of Google. Day explained that Southeast Asia as a region picking up in digital and hence the entire ecosystem of creators, audience and marketers is coming closer together. This no doubt requires the nurturing of local, digitally savvy, talent on both marketing and content creation side of things.

Like Johnson he agreed that ultimately everyone wants to create the big thing but what google does is “give them the opportunity to actually grow and create new products.”

“We try to keep the entrepreneurial spirit alive and create a culture where they can actually plan out a career progression,” he added.

Meanwhile, speaking at a later session, Amit Sutha, managing director of Universal McCann Malaysia and Ensemble Worldwide said that over on the agency side of things, it is no longer enough to either look for a “mad man” in creativity or a “math man” who only focuses on data. A mix is needed but Sutha admits, the finding that right mix is not easy.

What he urges is for teams to be structured in a cluster form to enable both creative and data-centric minds to work together.

“It is hard to be both a mad man and a math man. So instead, create teams of people with both capabiltities. We need to put people of different capabilities together,” he said.