Campaign India Team
May 17, 2013

Digital age puts extra pressure on talent retention

Increasingly demanding clients, diverse responsibilities and longer hours have seen an exodus of talent from media agencies

Digital age puts extra pressure on talent retention

The growing number of platforms with multiple engagement opportunities is creating a fragmentation of media and audiences. Media agencies need a diverse range of skilled talent to meet this challenge, but are finding it hard to both attract and retain top talent. 

“Finding talent is not the biggest problem because a lot of candidates are attracted to agencies by the excitement and creativity side of the industry,” says Reina Cheng, head of practice, commerce for recruitment services firm Talent2. The problem, she says, lies in retention. “A lot of recruits find agency work hours and multitasking to be a problem, so they tend to look for in-house jobs. 

“There is a perception that working at a media agency means long hours, ever-increasing KPIs and demanding clients. This has promoted the idea that it is a high-pressure career with poor work-life balance,” agrees Karin Clarke, Asia regional director for agency recruitment firm Font. As a result, Clarke has noticed that some media buying companies have recently been experiencing higher levels of employee turnover. The Media Federation of Australia recently reported turnover rates of 30 per cent.

Part of the problem, say agency heads, is that the available pool of fresh talent is ill-prepared to cope with the rigours of working life. 

“The need for more analysis, more knowledge, more responsiveness and more adaptation, all in real time, has caused many in the industry to struggle under the pressure,” says Andreas Vogiatzakis, managing director of OMG Malaysia. The pressures are very real, he adds, with media firms increasingly expected to do more with less. 

This article is from the May 2013
issue of Campaign Asia-Pacific

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Adding to the problem, the advent of big data and digital has seen media agencies competing with fellow agencies, and even tech giants such as Google and IBM, for the same pool of in-demand talent. “Talent is relentlessly poached by competitors,” says Vogiatzakis. “The industry is in a terrible situation and it will take solidarity, vision and leadership to change this.”

Agencies need to take an active hand in not only branding media agencies as great places to work, but in training up the talent needed. 

Most universities can’t give talent the training they need without the aid of the agencies, says Prashant Kumar, Mediabrands regional president, world markets Asia. 

“With a few exceptions there is too much academic training, and not enough real-world project experience,” agrees Vogiatzakis, who is actively involved with several universities, mentoring and coaching fresh graduates and guiding them to the doors of various media agencies in the local market. 

To help tackle this issue, Mediabrands works with universities across the region, providing scholarships to promising students and encouraging senior leaders to teach. Kumar himself once agreed to front a top Asian university as its brand ambassador pro bono in order to inspire students to join the media industry. In-house, the network has an ongoing talent-training programme, Greenhouse, which commits to a minimum of 100 hours of training per year. 

In addition to these initiatives, Michael Wright, GroupM head of talent acquisition, Asia-Pacific believes agencies need to cast a wider net to attract the talent they need. For example, for certain select positions in the region, especially for candidates from top business schools, GroupM has removed the traditional resumé format. “This approach enables candidates to distinguish themselves by presenting us with a full perspective of their softer attributes, such as their attitude and passion, which are so important to us,” says Wright.

At the grassroots level, GroupM has developed a Media Masters Programme in the region, he adds. Now in its fourth year, the course is an industry-recognised apprenticeship. The initiative embraces those who were perhaps not fortunate enough to have gone through the higher education system, but still show potential, says Wright.  

Meanwhile, Wright says, the agencies could learn a lesson or two on talent from other industries. In particular, he says, the software sector of the US technology industry provides good examples, such as the use of online games in the recruitment process. 

But recruiting talent is only half the equation, to retain the talent they need, media agencies must engage employees and brand themselves as good employers. The first step, says Font’s Clarke, is to find ways to better balance workloads. This, she acknowledges, won’t be easy. 

Mediabrands for example tries to lighten the high pressure atmosphere and engage employees with impromptu ‘fun days’. This includes turning offices into a laser-tag war zone, and Friday painting classes, with the best paintings auctioned off for charity at the end of the year.

A recent study by Bricoleur Consulting and Singapore’s 4As suggests that media agencies there could do more to define career paths for employees. The survey of about 400 media specialists found that employees feel a lack of differentiation and creativity in their jobs, and 51 per cent were looking for a change.

“More important than talent acquisition, employees need to feel they own their careers,” says Kumar. “Some ways to achieve this could be by training and development, mentorship or allowing them to assign and lead real projects where they gain on-the-ground experience.”

The article first appeared on Campaign Asia

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