Talent is easier lost than retained
Talent, as any ad CEO will tell you, is easier lost than retained. Agencies claim to have various programmes in place to draw the best in and keep the best back. But is it too little, too late?
Inability to attract talent, retention, remuneration, inadequate training, the list just goes on and on. But there are solutions, although not as many as the problems, that are slowly trickling in. JWT’s Happiness Action Plan, Madisonites Stock Partnership Scheme (MSPS) and Aspiration Mapping by Starcom are all measures by agencies to fight the tightening loop of attrition.
In many ways, the agencies start at a backfoot considering the fact that remuneration packages have not kept pace with other sectors or industries. Lara Balsara, business development and diversification manager at Madison World attributes the problem of talent to remuneration, “Intense competition within advertising is being exploited by advertisers but enlightened advertisers know that this is not in their interest,” she says. So the industry that has CEOs who passed out from IIMs and IITs today doesn’t have the financial wherewithal to recruit from premier B schools or colleges. Sapna Shrivastava, chief talent officer, JWT – APAC says, “Today an MBA expects salary packet of Rs 6- 7 lakh and we cannot give them that much.”
This automatically rules out recruitment drives at top business schools. “Advertising is not the glamorous industry it used to be anymore. Today people interested in creativity actively seek out avenues like fashion industry, music, film or radio,” says Madhukar Sabnavis, country head – discovery & planning, Ogilvy. For Ogilvy, the presence of a personality like Piyush Pandey also acts as a magnet for potential talent, but Sabnavis acknowledges the increasing pressure of attracting talent.
The ad industry for a long time enjoyed a high octane dose of cool quotient which over the years has waned, say industry professionals. “Advertising has lost ground on that front,” says Joseph George, dy CEO, Lowe, “There are a number of places now — music, radio, IT, consultancy, even job at Google is cooler than an ad.” Add to that the increasing pressure on margins from clients and other growing talent hungry industries.” But at places like Lowe, talent retention issues are met with straightforward, sometimes brutally honest answers. “At Lowe the good guys know they are good and the bad guys know they are bad. Promising talent receives disproportionate increments and there will be clear signals for them to know that they are good and appreciated,” says George.
There is no doubt however that advertising agencies must now do for themselves what they do for clients. Sabnavis agrees that being present and active in colleges helps create equity for the agency, “We encourage our senior management to evangelise people at art schools, business schools, industry forums and all places where there is an opportunity to do so.” Savita Mathai, VP-HR, Draftfcb - APAC, says that while the problem of talent does exist, the Star One programme for the agency has been able to address and retain talent. The new recruits have a month of intensive classroom training to provide an overview of all aspects of the business, says Mathai.
Then, the recruits are split into creative and servicing. It also includes a month long stint on the client side. Interestingly, although Mudra Institute of Communication & Advertising (MICA) has been a repository for advertising talent, the Mudra group doesn’t hire from MICA. Ajit Menon, EVP & head, leadership learning & change, Mudra says, “I think the biggest error we make is recruiting to fill vacancies.” Menon states now the need is mapped against the business growth or requirement and then necessary talent acquisition is undertaken.
One would think a healthy sprinkling of innovative solutions on the talent front would be a piece of cake for an industry that prides itself on solving client problems with out-of-box solutions. Consider JWT’s Happiness Action Plan to address issues facing the workforce. The plan is a result of the Happiness Quotient — an employee engagement survey of 91 questions covering topics like office management, top bosses, commitment to work, loyalty to organisation among others. All anonymous of course.
Things are not very different on the media side. Starcom Mediavest Group has what it calls Aspiration Mapping, a career roadmap for employees. “Rising stars are provided with classroom and on-the-job training opportunities to groom him or her to take on a larger role,” says Rashmi Deshpande, chief talent office, SMV group. Similarly, Madison gives its employees incentives based on performance while some get to participate in MSPS created to reward loyalty and performance at the agency.
Despite battle plans and maps, the average industry attrition level is 30-35%. Given the high rate, the men and women at the top will have to work doubly hard to convert advertising into a career from a job status that it currently enjoys.