COMPETITION is stiff between industries to attract top talents. The annual Graduate Fellowship Programme (GFP) helps to give the advertising industry a fighting chance.
It is too early to call GFP, now in its third year, an unqualified success. But the Association of Accredited Advertising Agents Malaysia (4As) has proof that it is on the right track in attracting “quality” candidates.
Michelle Achuthan (pic), the 4As council member holding the knowledge management portfolio, has survey results to support it.
For those who haven’t heard of it, GFP is an intensive programme whereby selected graduates undergo on-the-job training at sponsoring agencies for three months. They also attend training in the evening at 95% The Advertising Academy.
The sponsoring agencies and the 4As fully fund the programme, valued at RM11,500 per person (including a monthly fellowship allowance of RM2,000). Applicants have to undergo a stringent interview process.
Achuthan says the 4As, via a survey among last year’s sponsoring agencies, found that GFP fellows scored better than other “newbies” in those agencies. “We asked the agencies to rate their GFP fellows vis-a-vis newbies who joined them on their own. They were scored based on passion for the ad industry, spoken English, idea generation, the ability to take pressure, the ability to contribute at brainstorming and review sessions, and the ability to bounce back,” she tells StarBizWeek.
The results are encouraging.
“On average, the GFP fellows scored two points above other fresh graduates just coming into the agency. As a mean score, they got seven (out of 10) whereas the newbies scored just a little over five.” (The scoring was done by agency heads or the senior members of the agencies responsible for monitoring the respective fellows’ progress.)
According to Achuthan, the reason for doing the survey is not so much to find out which individuals are better, but to look for things that would make a difference to the graduates and that would convince them to stay in the industry, which faces a high churn rate.
“We want to build a database and track the fellows’ progress,” she says.
The focus on quality means that there have not been many GFP fellows selected to-date.
In the first year, only four out of about 16 applicants were chosen. Last year, 10 out of just over 20 applicants were accepted into the programme. “I’m sure we’ll get more applicants this year. This year we’re looking at placing about 12 graduates, but if for some reason we get a lot of great applicants, we may increase that number,” she says.
The deadline for applications this year is June 9. Those accepted will be “pre-trained” throughout August prior to the three-month stint in the sponsoring agencies beginning September.
Achuthan, who is also BBDO/Proximity Malaysia managing director, says the 4As is getting better at marketing the programme to a wider audience.
The association, for example, cross-markets GFP at the mentorship programme that it runs regularly with students, either on campus or in public. At the end of that day-long programme − in which students work on an advertising brief under the guidance of seasoned creative heads − the association would tell the students about the GFP.
“The lecturers play a big role in helping the students decide if this (GFP) is something they should do. We have our work cut out for us, because it’s not just directly reaching out to the students; it’s also about convincing the lecturers that this is a good programme,” she says.
Another group of audience that may need convincing is the parents. “The great thing about this programme is it gives real-life, real-time experience with absolutely no cost to the graduates or their parents,” she notes.
The number of graduates accepted into the GFP is low as the 4As wants to see an almost full pass rate.
“Sometimes just having to go through the interview process (with 95% The Advertising Academy) and the initial interviews with the agencies, many of the graduates realise that this may not be what they want to do after all. A lot of graduates are afraid to join the industry based on the perception of the hard work and long hours.”
Achuthan says the interviews are not so much to suss out the applicants’ aptitude − which can be taught − but more their attitude, such as being open-minded.
Last year all of the 10 GFP participants graduated. One left for the banking industry, but Achuthan is happy to report that the rest remain in advertising.
She says that the 4As is keen on building GFP into a sustainable programme − one that becomes part of the industry’s DNA and continues running beyond the current 4As council.
Under her 4As portfolio, Achuthan works with trainers to ensure that enough programmes are in place to reach out to students with the main objective of inspiring and attracting new talents.
The mentorship programme mentioned earlier has been made more attractive. This is done by linking it with the Kancil Awards, the local industry’s top creative award show.
Previously called Ad Unplugged, the programme has been rebranded the Kancil Student Awards Idea Brewery, she says.
The programme ran well, she says, but it previously operated in a silo. “To inspire the students, you want to give them their 15 minutes of fame and show them that their efforts pay off. We’re now running the sessions with the actual Kancil Student Award brief,” she says.
This means that the campaign that the students work on can be entered for the Student Awards. “We’re also building it so that those submitting in the student category can receive feedback possibly from the Kancil panel of judges,” she says, adding that this will be a first.
“If all goes well this year, post-Kancils the student winners will be able to hear from the client that sponsors the category on how the latter feels about the work the students have produced against the brief. And if possible, to get the client commitment to run the campaign.”