Talent wars: How media is fighting back against tech firms in the battle for talent | M&M Global

Talent wars: How media is fighting back against tech firms in the battle for talent

As industry leaders warns of a decline in global agency talent, how are media businesses reinventing themselves to stem the flow of staff defecting to technology companies? Mike Fletcher investigates.

The internet got itself in a bit of a flap recently after Twitter announced the opening of an office in Hong Kong, despite having no visibility in mainland China. It quickly transpired that the strategy is an outbound one. The digital publisher is using its real-time marketing platform to help Chinese brands reach a global audience of 288 million monthly active users.

According to Twitter’s sales director of emerging markets, Peter Greenberger, the Hong Kong office has opened with a relatively small sales team but will “grow as the opportunity grows”.

According to WPP chief executive Sir Martin Sorrell, growing a media sales team in a new global market is no longer that simple.

Speaking at a Microsoft event in November, Sorrell warned that the supply of global media talent is drying up as we live in a world where “production exceeds demand and demand exceeds talent”.

The fact is, however, that digital publishers, including social networks, would disagree with Sorrell. A company like Twitter will find it easier than a media agency to fill its Hong Kong office with talented sales people, as such firms have found themselves in the vanguard of a global recruitment race.

Entrepreneurial people

Global media agencies and, to a lesser extent, media owners are losing good staff to the likes of Google, Facebook and Twitter as young talent looks for the opportunity to drive a changing media landscape and move to workplace environments that have been specifically created for them.

Michael Maedel, executive chairman at Grace Blue Asia Pacific, told M&M Global earlier this year: “Agencies rooted in the past structurally and from a talent perspective – where margin growth is still the predominant driver – run the risk of getting left behind. They become less attractive to the type of entrepreneurial people who would help them respond best to clients’ business challenges.

“It’s why so many people leave the industry to start up on their own, or join digital brands and clients – particularly in markets like China.”

Ton Schoonderbeek (below), global talent leader at Mindshare, agrees. He says: “There’s an ageing population in the Western world and a lack of experienced talent in growing economies in Asia and Africa. This challenge requires a new approach to talent recruiting and development.

“If we, as agencies, don’t change, our skills pool will dry up. At Mindshare we use the mobility of our people to close the gap, as we are the most geographically balanced media agency.”

Different skill-sets

ZenithOptimedia Group has 250 offices operating across 74 countries. The agency’s UK chair Belinda Rowe believes that exceptional talent is always hard to find but insists it is out there. Due to the changing nature of the media agency business, however, the talent being sought is no longer the same as yesteryear.

In fact, according to Rowe, agencies now require more than 40 different skill-sets, three times more than previously.

“We have evolved into new areas of digital data and content so we need to attract developers, technical, strategists and digital marketers. In the past, school leavers would start in an agency’s post-room. Now, we’re starting people in technical and data roles so that they learn on the job,” she says.

Ben Shepherd, managing director at media recruiter Savvy, says that job seekers who have acquired a specialism as data analysts, programmatic engineers or other technical media roles can increase their basic salary by as much as £20,000 in some cases, such is the demand.

“The pace of technology has quickened and universities have struggled to keep up so most graduates don’t have the necessary skill-sets for this new global media world,” says Shepherd. “If you’ve sought the experience and you’re talented however, the market is still incredibly buoyant for good candidates. The very best can almost name their price and which country they’d like to live in.”

Working environments

Abba Newbery (below), director of strategy at News UK admits that media owners have had to reflect the workplaces of digital-only start-ups and publishers by offering more attractive working environments. Hot desks have replaced silos, community huddles and creative spaces have replaced closed-off meeting rooms while nine-to-five working hours have become a thing of the past.

She says: “The need for coders, analysts and engineers in the modern media world has seen advertising become a very process driven business. People used to join a media agency or media owner because it was a lifestyle-driven career. The role that technology now plays in media has changed this.

“Some of the Silicon Valley-type brands present attractive places to work to mask the fact that the jobs themselves are difficult and boring. Digital publishers have become engineering-led companies but flexible and fun working environments remain attractive to the millennial generation.

“Our philosophy is to be as good as you can be. If you’re not a morning person, then it’s ok to come into work at 10am but we expect you to get the job done. We’re more focused on an individual’s output rather than their timekeeping.”

Graduate recruitment

In order to compete, many agencies have now reintroduced graduate recruitment programmes that were scaled down during the recessional years and adopted a more holistic approach to staff development.

Simon Davis, UK chief executive at Publicis’ new global media agency network Blue 449, believes that until recently, many agency recruitment schemes simply weren’t fit for purpose, as they failed to recognise that millennials need to feel empowered and nurtured when starting out.

“They have much higher expectations than graduates used to have because they’ve paid a higher price for their education. As a result, they’ve made a more cold-eyed assessment of the potential career opportunities. Agencies have needed to up their game and recognise that this new attitude is a good thing because it results in more qualified and ambitious job seekers.”

ZenithOptimedia’s Rowe agrees. Her agency’s graduate recruitment scheme takes on almost 50 staff a year. It also runs an apprentice scheme. An exchange programme specifically designed for a millennial attitude further encourages worldwide staff to compete for the opportunity to spend four weeks working in one of the global offices and reporting back global trends such as consumer behaviour in Korea or digital development in China.

“It shapes staff to become more global in the way they think about media and in their general outlook,” says Rowe.

Worldwide universities

At Mindshare, Schoonderbeek works across GroupM and WPP to engage with worldwide universities and schools to open-up talent pipelines through internships, fellowships and other graduate programmes.

“Millennials coming into the job market today are focused on work life balance, culture, purpose, flexibility and leadership potential, so we are adapting our recruitment to these new needs,” he says. “Our internal mobility program also helps us to make sure that the talent is evenly spread.”

Walker Media’s Davis believes that offering global opportunities for staff development and adopting a more holistic approach to agency roles could be the saviour for employee retention.

He observes that the bounce-rate of millennials leaving agencies for roles in digital publishers is growing as they quickly discover that their new jobs are too narrow and do not present opportunities to engage with what is going on across the company.

“We make sure staff have varied opportunities and roles so that they are always learning and feel a greater value to the business. We call it Accelerated Empowerment as it presents a structured path of progression,” says Walker.

Rowe concurs, stating that agencies are becoming more attractive places to work because staff get a more horizontal view of the business. “If people get stuck in a vertical role, they rarely last more than 18 months,” she says.

“I was at a meeting recently with some senior people from Google and we were discussing technology. It was interesting that if they were asked a question that didn’t fit within their role remit, they couldn’t answer it. The new agency culture ensures that our talent knows the whole business.

“It’s this horizontal approach to staff retention that will win the longer-term battle for media talent.”

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