Stop the brain drain in advertising


  • Business
  • Monday, 20 Jan 2020

Bala: Talents have a wide range of options today, and advertising may not always be their first port of call.

PETALING JAYA: Amid the massive brain drain and price undercutting in the advertising industry, the competitive sector is facing a talent crunch.

Industry players and media analysts said concerted efforts should be undertaken urgently to retain and attract new talents in the ad space.

The talent crunch in the industry is not only limited to the outflow of talents to other markets but also those leaving the industry for other jobs that offer lucrative prospects.

Singapore and China are among some of the countries which are attracting Malaysian ad talent to their shores.

Commenting on the brain drain in the industry, Andrew Lee, who is the the Association of Accredited Advertising Agents Malaysia (4As) president, said to succeed in this industry, one must be resourceful, innovative, accountable and to always remain positive.

“Getting into the advertising industry is easy, but building a viable long term career is extremely tough.

“Advertising is not for everyone.

“Advertising is for a special breed of people have discipline, intelligence, and passion to build brands.

“The advertising industry is constantly changing and to survive in the industry, one must continue to evolve to avoid being obsolete.

“Many who can’t hack it had left the industry for something easier, ” he told StarBiz.

Lee, the group managing director of Havas Malaysia, said the pull factor to migrate to other markets were due to higher salary and other benefits as well as the stronger currency of a particular market.

Publicis Groupe and Leo Burnett Malaysia CEO Tan Kien Eng, referring on the price war in the industry, said that 4As needs to play a role to provide a guide and benchmark salary to protect in the retention of talents.

“Agencies need to come together and stop the undercutting of price just to win projects as this is unsustainable in the long run.

“The creative industry like any other business need to operate profitably.

“Otherwise, aside from relying on its reputation to attract the best talent, how will the industry afford to pay in order to retain the best talents?” he asked.

Dentsu Aegis Network Malaysia group talent management director Gan Mei Lian said client demand has had a huge impact on industry talent.

Expectations on the agency side are increasing, but at lower fees, she said.

This, she added, inevitably translates to cost pressures with diminishing margins.

The consequence of this is smaller and leaner teams with an increasing workload amidst a volatile and uncertain environment, she added.

“Coupled with this, clients are hiring ‘industry’ talent’ – sometimes with better benefits and work-life balance.

“Another contributory factor is the lure of international exposure and mobility opportunities available to the millennial generation – the attraction to relocate is very real.

“If the ad industry in Malaysia can evolve fast enough to meet client/business requirements, this in itself will be able to create an environment where talent can grow and broaden their knowledge and skills ‘on the job’.

“However, for agencies that are still primarily traditional in their offering, the talents’ exposure and learning will be limited, ” Gan noted.

Echoing similar sentiment, Tan said to make things worse, clients (advertisers) are constantly squeezing their creative and media agencies to reduce agency fees and production fees whilst demanding the best agency talents to work on their business.

“It just doesn’t make sense.

“The creative and media industry is a business too, not a starving artist.

“The industry need to be managed like any business, be profitable for it to be in it for the long haul.

“It requires the funds to attract and remunerate the best talent.

“How can you do that if your margin is razor thin?

“Creative and media agencies also need the funds to nurture and to retain the best talents.

“The agencies need to be growing profitably for the best talents to see a career path and career progression to remain employed in that agency, ” he emphasised.

IPG Mediabrands Malaysia CEO Bala Pomaleh blames the shortage of good talent to the current education system in the country.

The education system is not geared to prepare talents for the working environment, and Malaysia has consistently scored poorly in global education rankings, he said.

“The World Bank has stated that Malaysians have a learning gap of 3.1 years compared to highest performing school systems, and there have been numerous calls for reform in the education system to more closely emulate that of neighbouring Singapore.

“This has not been seriously addressed, and leaves school-goers seriously disadvantaged and not up to par.

“Looking specifically at the ad industry, we see talents who are completely unprepared for the realms of the job, so the industry needs to develop internship programmes and aggressive work prep training to get students ready and hungry to join us.

“Talents have a wide range of options today, and advertising may not always be their first port of call.

“We need to work towards branding our industry to make it more exciting to talents, and this could come in the form of more face time with schools, universities and colleges to build appeal for the next generation, ” Bala said.

Measures to address brain drain

With the severe brain drain in the ad space, how can the industry reverse this glaring phenomenon?

Bala said as the rate of burnout among staff due to mounting pressure and long working hours plays a big role in the industry, it is important that the mental health of talents is protected for their sustainment in the industry.

“We have developed a #LiveWell programme to help talents balance their different aspects of life and is this is built in with access to free counselling sessions not just for our talents but for their family members too.

“Another thing to consider is talent mobility programmes.

“There have been numerous reports that show startling statistics on the perception of millennials towards their jobs, indicating they are less engaged to their job, easily ‘check out’ and as a result, want to try something new every other year.

“If organisations give millennials a compelling reason to stay through mobility programmes, it will suit their need for flexibility and opportunities to find themselves, ” he said.

Bala said agencies need to rethink how to connect with millennials and the Gen Z to incorporate greater opportunities across business, platforms, scope and geographies to engage accordingly with changing talent needs.

Lee said to address the talent crunch issue, there is an urgent need to train talents to unlock their potential.

Towards this end, for example, he added that 4As is consistently bringing relevant training and certification programmes to equip talents with the right skills and knowledge to succeed in advertising.

“It is the responsibility of all leaders of the industry to invest and to train the people so that we have a consistent flow of talents into the industry.

“The talent shortage is partly caused by selfish and irresponsible leaders who’d only ask the question ‘What happens if we train them and they leave?’ but not considering the consequences of what will happen if we don’t train them, ” he stressed.

With the right training programmes and adopting a responsible to help the talents grow, Lee said he is upbeat that talent retention can be sustained.

The education curriculum, Tan said, needs to be current and be future facing to create talents of tomorrow.

New subjects like critical thinking, coding and programming need to be taught in schools, he said.

“Lecturers need to be more in touch with the current ad agency world to impart useful and practical knowledge so that the students are industry ready.

“Ad agencies need to invest and welcome in fresh graduates by taking the time to training them for the real world, ” he added.

Dentsu’s Gan feel there is a need to start looking at fresh graduates where agencies are willing to spend time teaching and grooming them rather than constantly trying to look for people with experience.

“Pursuing a path that requires experience inevitably means that we need to lure talent from competitors which just isn’t sustainable and is detrimental in that it leads to escalating salary costs that the industry will struggle to meet.

“Whilst fresh graduates don’t necessarily have the experience, they do bring new perspectives and ideas which breathe life into the industry, ” she said.

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