WHAT a busy March it has been for the advertising fraternity! First, it was the annual screening of the London International Advertising Awards, then the launch of a book jointly authored by a media specialist and a creative, followed by the election of new office bearers to the Association of Accredited Advertising Agents (4As) before the month was brought to a close with the inaugural Malaysian AdCongress 2003 in Langkawi.
While the first three events are not less important, there is no doubt that the real heavyweight is the Malaysian Advertisers Association's (MAA) AdCongress which was held over four days featuring a slew of advertising and marketing international names with the Minister of Entrepreneur Development, Datuk Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz, as the VIP.
If you needed confirmation small comfort though it may be that the times they are not just a-changing but could signal more trouble ahead, Zainuddin M. Noh, the MAA president, provided it in his speech.
Foremost in the minds of industry leaders is the economic impact of the tragic war in Iraq. How damaging this conflict, especially if prolonged, will be on adex (advertising expenditure) is difficult to assess at this stage. But already the uncertainties that accompany all wars are being felt, said Zainuddin, who is also general manager (group corporate affairs) for F&N Holdings Bhd.
In my own F&N group, for example, core business units are already being buffeted by the volatility of fuel prices. It is the same for many others and the result has been the emergence of a sense of much greater caution in the preparation of budgets for 2003 and beyond.
It was obviously this climate of change and uncertainty that is behind the weighty theme Whats next for you, your brand, your market, your industry?
The forum revolved around challenges such as the shift from protectionism to globalism; the threat to global brands; how to deal with demanding consumers; new channels of distribution; new and emerging technologies and the proliferation of media choices.
As Zainuddin rightly pointed out, however, the challenge of change is an everyday one. The question is how we can swiftly and effectively confront its challenges in a way that ensures sustained prosperity.
Aside from the current love affair with re-invention, Zainuddin went on to suggest that education could be another. In his words, the continuing provision of proper educational facilities and first class teachers is one way that we can stay ahead of the game.
Malaysia, he added, had the potential for a regional leadership role, especially in education and this was borne out at a meeting with the Asian Federation of Advertising Associations (AFAA) in Jakarta recently.
At the meeting, the proposal for a common industry standard for professional advertising and related qualifications took centre stage.
It seemed that the model admired by the Indonesian delegates was IACT Institute Advertising Communication and Training (a result of the cooperative efforts of the MAA and 4As) that could form the framework for a standard syllabus leading to a diploma and degree for students studying advertising.
A common-syllabus proposal will be drawn up to be presented for ratification by AFAA and IAA (International Advertising Association) at the AdAsia Congress to be held in Jaipur in November. Recognition of the diploma and degree syllabus by both the AFAA and IAA would give students the opportunity to obtain a passport to employment, not only in Asia, but throughout the world.
Since the Indonesians also made an informal request for the IACT to extend a branch in their country to overcome their chronic shortage of fresh new blood, Zainuddin said that the branch campus of IACT could thus be the first step towards region-wide educational facilities offering advertising diploma and degree courses of common standard.
The MAA's initiative is laudable but I suggest that it is only one side of the wedge. From personal experience as well as sharing with like-minded agency heads, the business is wanting in the area of providing practical experience to graduates.
At present, colleges and universities send their students for a two- or three- month attachment to agencies to learn the ropes. This occurs at breaks either in their second or third year but many institutions do not realise the ineffectiveness of the programme.
The shortcoming is usually because the stint is too short and agencies find the pro bono exercise a waste of resources, time and expense because we are expected to pay an allowance to attachment trainees, not get paid!
An agency head has suggested that a proper internship of six months or one year after graduation something like law students who have to chamber or medical students who do housemanship may be a better solution.
Also, since students on internship are learning at the expense of agencies, students should not expect remuneration of any kind, the argument being that since they paid to learn at colleges, why should it be any different at agencies if the internship is seen as a continuation of their education.
Perhaps the new office bearers at the 4As under the continuing presidency of Khoo Boo Boon can mull over this issue and consider how they can smoothen the transition from student to working professional to the benefit of all parties concerned.
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