Media Forum: Is media still a good career?

Can media still be a creatively satisfying career option, Alasdair Reid asks.

On average, graduate intake has been lower than usual on both sides of the media buying and selling fence this year - for obvious reasons. But it's interesting to note that some companies have made every effort to keep recruitment at the same levels as before.

When they've been forced to make cuts, they've pruned some of the top-most branches and thinned out the middle ranks. And, though risky in the short term, you can appreciate the long-term wisdom. The downturn won't last for ever - and the companies best placed to take advantage of the upturn will be those that still have a fully functioning conveyor belt of talent.

Also, when job prospects are so shaky across the economy, you can probably hope to draw from a higher quality pool of graduate talent.

On the other hand, the commercial side of the media industry hasn't that much to crow about. With recession has come the notion that the commercial media market has become a greyer place, a process-driven world focused on the sort of number-crunching you need to convince clients you're delivering return on investment. A bit like chartered accountancy minus the professional exams.

So has it actually become harder to convince talented graduates that media can add up to a creatively satisfying career option?

Absolutely not, Derek Morris, the chairman of ZenithOptimedia, says; but there are caveats. He reflects that it remains hard to identify and nurture creative thinkers: "I'm not talking about creativity in the narrow sense of coming up with an advertising campaign for a new brand. I'm thinking more generally about identifying problems and thinking your way around them. I'm thinking about the ability to develop and present big ideas.

"In business, that's the equivalent of throwing a double six - and it's rare. People talk about there being fewer mavericks coming into the (media) business and that's true to an extent. But the problem is that you can't afford lots of mavericks."

Mike Parker, the head of strategic sales at Channel 4, agrees with some of these points: "We still attract an enormous amount of applications from people who find the commercial side of the media business attractive. But it's also true we're seeing a split in the industry between the more strategic side of things and the more trading- or admin-oriented side.

"It's reaching the stage where we have to consider different intakes because the two sides require such different skillsets. On the planning side, we're looking for people with analytical skills who can develop and present a case - for that, graduates are pretty much essential."

Meanwhile, Mark Creighton, the managing director at i-level, says he's in a privileged position - the digital world offers greater opportunities for creative fulfilment: "It's true it has always been the case that graduates get confused about the difference between media planning and buying agencies and (creative) advertising agencies.

"But we'll be pursuing a lot more of those types of CVs in the future because the skillsets we'll be looking for will be different. Broadly, we're looking at presentation skills, attention to detail skills, analytical skills and debating skills - we're interested in how prospective candidates form their arguments and are able to maintain them."

And Zoe O'Connor, a recent graduate intake media executive at MPG, says her perception of it was of an agency that took a creative approach to planning - and she hasn't been disappointed: "It's been great to be planning campaigns both online and offline for such high-profile clients, like Magners. Not only does this enable me to build up a wide skillset, the integrated approach also makes me more valuable to the client.

"Working here has also allowed me access to all levels of the company - brainstorming with strategists, involvement in pitches and weekly knowledge-sharing sessions from internal experts. As a graduate, this experience is invaluable for my career development."

MAYBE - DEREK MORRIS, CHAIRMAN, ZENITHOPTIMEDIA

"We attract interest from a wide group. But when you ask about creative thinkers, then I think we're in the same position as any other sector - there's a shortfall in British business when it comes to creativity."

MAYBE - MIKE PARKER, HEAD OF STRATEGIC SALES, CHANNEL 4

"When people think media, they think about TV companies, publishers and online media companies. They don't automatically think planning and buying. That's not always seen as a career in its own right."

YES - MARK CREIGHTON, MANAGING DIRECTOR, I-LEVEL

"We're looking to develop solutions with media owners as much as we're working with ad agencies - so the creative process and demarcation lines are far more blurred. So it's perhaps easier for us."

YES - ZOE O'CONNOR, MEDIA EXECUTIVE, MPG

"Seeing campaigns that I have worked on live in situ, whether this is on the Underground, in a magazine or online, is a great feeling and makes this industry a satisfying place to work. I've chosen MPG to get the chance to work with all media as part of an integrated team."

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Digital marketing executives oversee the online marketing strategy for their organisation. They plan and execute digital (including email) marketing campaigns and design, maintain and supply content for the organisation's website(s).