Media: Double Standards - The talent scouts seeking media's best-in-class

campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 05 March 2010 12:00AM

Two recruitment specialists on the challenges of finding the next generation of media leaders, as an industry-wide hiring freeze finally shows signs of thawing.

KATHLEEN SAXTON, FOUNDER, THE LIGHTHOUSE COMPANY

- What is the biggest issue media companies face at the moment when recruiting staff?

Given the survival budgets many media companies have been operating within over the past 18 to 24 months, any hiring in 2010 will be overdue, precious and critical. The question many are asking is: "Do I bring in talented bricklayers or expensive architects - when I need both?" The other headline issue is whether businesses can retain the strong talent they already hold within their leadership teams. People have been resilient, loyal and a little fearful, but for best-in-class, confidence is starting to re-emerge.

- What role can recruitment specialists/headhunters play in helping an agency build the right team?

Good headhunters build super-teams. By representing and guiding only the best talent globally and partnering agencies and media owners at a senior level, we are in constant dialogue with emerging and established talent in parallel with dynamic and ambitious companies, so we ensure we can offer lateral opportunities and introductions that inspire and excite both parties. It is our connectivity to this talent and our judgment in understanding and building leadership teams that make headhunters so valuable.

- In the current difficult market, are agencies and other media companies cutting back recruitment costs and handling their own searches?

At The Lighthouse, we work at board level globally, so, in the main, our searches are instructed by the local or global chief executives needing leaders for their businesses.

We encourage clients to look at internal and group talent before they instruct a headhunter, so are brought in to lead a search when the usual suspects have been discounted and clients need a more rigorous and deeper unearthing of new world talent.

- How good would you say media agencies are at attracting a broad mix of talent?

Media agencies are particularly well-versed at hiring specialised and broad talent. Ever since I was at PHD and we offered everything from data analytics, to search, to content consultants, it has been clear that the world is moving ever-faster and agencies need to stay ahead in what they can offer their clients. More recently, we have proven that bringing together a diverse set of individuals can often spark more interesting results and any shortlist we deliver will always hold a broad range of backgrounds.

- Why do you think top talent in the business is still attracted to a career in media?

Autonomy, creativity and ownership are cited by chief executives within the media industry as the elements they most value and enjoy - so the worldwide hiring heads need to ensure they are allowing their leaders the space to truly lead. Interestingly and alarmingly, in a survey The Lighthouse undertook in December 2009, more than 35 per cent of leaders said they had considered leaving the media industry in the past 18 months, so we need to think very hard as a sector about how to retain and further engage the leaders of talent for today and tomorrow.

- Have there been industry/structural changes in recent years that mean you are looking for different backgrounds/skillsets when hiring?

Last autumn, I asked both Andrew Robertson (BBDO) and Laura Desmond (SMG) if they were now looking for different skills from their leaders, and "new breadth" was the answer. Individuals who are commercial for the business, motivating for their teams and strategic for their clients. These attributes were seen as more important than intellect or specialism at chief executive level.

- What's the toughest question you can ask of a candidate in the interview/selection process?

"What single act of yours has changed the value of your business and how did you judge and measure the value you created?"

TIM JONES, HR DIRECTOR, AEGIS MEDIA

- What is the biggest issue media companies face at the moment when recruiting staff?

The issues are the same as they have always been - a huge demand to attract and retain the very best talent. As that talent is in demand, it always feels like there is a shortage.

- What role can recruitment specialists/headhunters play in helping an agency build the right team?

The very best headhunters understand our business and through the development of that partnership can provide insightful and objective knowledge of candidates to complement our business. They can also help with the promotion of opportunities, sensitive negotiations and the provision of objective advice.

- In the current difficult market, are agencies and other media companies cutting back recruitment costs and handling their own searches?

Costs are being reduced for several reasons: there is more of a focus on the development and nurturing of internal talent; there are fewer roles; and there are more nimble ways of attracting talent through social networks, websites, referrals etc. Like any service, recruitment requires careful management, and I believe the average cost-per-hire has to reduce. It disappoints me when agencies spend more on recruitment than on the development of their talent.

- How good would you say media agencies are at attracting a broad mix of talent?

I think agencies are attracting a broader mix, yet there is still a way to go. Diversity statistics are improving and a large number of agencies are working hard to encourage diversity and create opportunities for talent and those with potential. Media must also do more - as an industry with a 50 per cent male/female workforce - to address the wider nationwide problem of delivering gender parity at senior levels.

- Why do you think top talent in the business is still attracted to a career in media?

Media is at the centre of many of the changes going on in people's lives, from social networking to YouTube. As such, media provides an array of opportunities that enable individuals to shape and experience these changes in a constantly changing and fast-paced environment. There is also less hierarchy and corporate treacle than in other sectors, which means talent can progress quickly.

- Have there been industry/structural changes in recent years that mean you are looking for different backgrounds/skillsets when hiring?

Media has diversified beyond recognition in the past five years and we do not see any evidence of this pace of change slowing down. We need, look and assess for a wider range of talents than ever before. Of course, the core media skills of strong relationship building, curiosity, creativity, intelligence, influencing and multitasking will always be prerequisite.

- What's the toughest question you can ask of a candidate in the interview/selection process?

It's not really about tough questioning but rather about thinking through the right questions properly beforehand to get the best out of the candidate. After all, candidates are assessing us just as much as we are assessing them.

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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