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How agencies in HK are hiring, upskilling and retaining staff

How agencies in HK are hiring, upskilling and retaining staff

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Since the onset of the pandemic, brands and agencies have had to pivot to create experiences for their audiences under restrictions imposed by the government, maximising the influence and awareness of their campaigns or marketing efforts. Previously, MARKETING-INTERACTIVE spoke to agency practitioners about their plans amid the fifth wave of the pandemic, with some of them saying that allowing employees to work from home and limiting work hours to avoid rush hours were some of the ways to protect them and keep their morale.

Amidst the lockdown, as digital interactions set to remain at an all time high, several brands have turned to hybrid events to ensure their marketing efforts remain on track. This in turn have forced agencies to become even more agile to better meet clients' needs. Therefore, new skills training has been in the works, according to industry professionals MARKETING-INTERACTIVE spoke to.

Matt Hofmeyer, managing director, Wavemaker Hong Kong said that there is a significant increase in clients asking for help in prioritising jobs to be done amongst the huge volume of data, information, and deliverables. With changing expectations, agencies need to identify what tasks will have the most impact on clients.

Hofmeyer joined as managing director in mid-March 2022 to replace Stanley Ngai. Hofmeyer has been working for Wavemaker for about two decades, playing an instrumental role in developing long-standing client partnerships with Mitsubishi Motors, the government of South Australia, Bridgestone, UniSA and South Australian Tourism. 
"I have also seen an enormous increase in the need for empathy and compassion. Both challenges can be addressed by asking better questions and improving our listening skills. These are the steps to help us understand each other and the unique challenges that each of us faces," he said.

Under the new normal, ways that people used before could be outdated, added on Gordon Domlija, CEO of Wavemaker Asia Pacific. As the pandemic brought with it a shock to the system, accelerated digitisation, and the unravelling of decades of uniformly globalised ways of working, clients are looking for leadership and guidance now. He added:

Past behaviours and performance count for little in the new world.

Domlija said while agencies might not have all the answers for what the future will bring, they can equip themselves to best navigate uncertainty through building a rigorous analytic process, simplifying complex data, and empowering their staff to develop robust points of view. "This is how we can effectively partner with our clients. We need to collaboratively work as one team to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow," he explained.

What skills are agencies on the hunt for?

As expectations from clients have evolved, both agencies and their employees need to have a new perspective to help brands succeed and thrive. Hofmeyer said agencies are looking for employees with multiple skills, including critical thinking and the ability to evaluate situations, as well as communication skills. He explained that when employees need to communicate with external parties, especially they need to talk over the phone, better communication skills can help a lot, to increase human connection.

Other skills that employees need to have include empathy and compassion as agencies need to ensure that they are people-first. "I hope to have employees that have curiosity and energy as they need to overcome the reduced learning potential [in the new world] by proactively seeking out new knowledge - especially where it does not match your existing point of view," said Hofmeyer. Agency practitioners are also advised both new and existing talents to know their personal limits and prioritise self-care activities to avoid burnout.

Although cultivating new skills are important, Domlija says basics still are a key component in the industry. "The skills I am always looking for are attitude and aptitude. The hard skills of our work are easy to teach and master, but the differentiating point is applying what you know to ask questions, challenge conventions, and develop a point of view that evolves who we are and what we do as an agency."

Tips to upskill the staff

With more challenges in the marketing industry and increasing demand from brands, agencies need to have a team of capable practitioners to deliver work that impresses. Erin Hung, senior manager and training committee lead of Golin Hong Kong, said that the agency offers a wide variety of training programmes for its employees, as flexibility is the core of the agency's training approach.

"We have developed a customisable pivot tables of more than 90 lessons from external trainers, internal experts and LinkedIn Learnings. Employees can choose training programmes that suit them best, as well as how, where and when to self-develop. Topics include cross-selling, crisis management, personal branding and Photoshop," she said. In addition to programmes arranged by the agency, Golin Hong Kong also launched an initiative allowing employees to choose what they consider to be valuable, such as language courses, masterclasses and mindfulness programmes.

Moreover, the agency has also sponsored its vice president Carol Yeung to learn sustainable business strategy at Harvard Business School, empowering her to give counsel to her clients and share knowledge with the teams.

Kenix Lai, group business director of Wavemaker Hong Kong, said her agency's focus has been on both hard and soft skills. "To develop our professional skills, our team has focused on strategic planning skills and proprietary tools, regular training co-conducted by core partners such as Google and Meta, eCommerce and email marketing."

She added that Wavemaker Hong Kong had created a series of local videos on communication skills, providing daily and handy tips on effective communication with colleagues, clients, and partners.

"We also try to build leadership skills through our reverse mentorship programme, connecting our seniors and juniors, and the ‘Walk the Talk’ workshop for our female leaders. The programme is a deep dive coaching programme for senior women to think about how they can grow personally and professionally," Lai added.

Staff retention

Previously, MARKETING-INTERACTIVE reported that higher compensation offered elsewhere and the lack of learning and development opportunities to upskill current employees were among the top three reasons for skills shortage in the region. Over the past two years, as employees have acquired new skills, they are more capable and competitive as they possess skills in demand. However, Hofmeyer believed that retaining staff won't be harder in the future, adding:

Wavemaker Hong Kong only retains people when it is in their best interests to stay.

He explained that the agency's role is to partner with its employees on their career development, helping them be prepared for their next role in their role in work or life. "But after the pandemic, I believe developing their talent in a flexible workplace will be the bare minimum that our people will expect."

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