MEDIA HEADLINER: Media talent that has decided agency life is just not enough - The media business is no longer a dream job for top young talent

There's this motivational little talk that Colin Gottlieb, the chief executive of OMD Europe, likes to give. He fires the entrepreneurial spirit in his young guns by telling them that they need to realise their ambitions between the ages of 28 and 32.

All good inspiring stuff but the only catch is that some of his top talent seems to have decided that there are better things to be doing at that age than running a media agency. Last week Matt James, the 29-year-old managing director of Manning Gottlieb OMD, resigned to pursue his ambitions outside the industry.

News of James' planned departure coincided with the announcement that Paul Parashar, the respected PHD broadcast director, is to launch his own media consultancy, Parashar Associates. Which begs the question: are the large media agencies still the place to nurture and sustain top talent?

Before moving to the media agency world, James was a draughtsman who worked on the construction of the Channel Tunnel. He left that career because he found it dull and lifeless. But the signs were that, after 12 years in the industry, James reached the conclusion that running a media agency is every bit as life sapping. "I have a mass of ideas I want to realise ... I am no longer happy with the media communications arena," he admitted.

There may be good reasons for this dissatisfaction. Some argue that media agencies have become less fun and challenging places to be. That the forces of global consolidation and increasing commoditisation of media product are frustrating for those looking to make their mark. And, perhaps more importantly, their fortune.

Peter Thomson, the managing director of CDP Media, says: "Media companies have become well- managed but essentially dull. People are working really hard but the chance of getting equity has become virtually nil. Increasingly, people are importing strategy out of places like New York. A lot of talent is walking away because they say it just isn't fun anymore. "

Gottlieb accepts that the business has changed: "It has never been more competitive. The speed of change is remarkable. Clients are under pressure, as consolidation has made the business more professional. "

But Gottlieb says the issue is not retention of talent ("there are enough youngsters coming through that say 'this is a process I belong to'") but: "An issue of retaining what makes this business special."

Some would say the networks are stifling talent but Jonathan Durden, the chairman of PHD, doesn't buy this argument wholesale: "Being part of Omnicom is a passport to go where you want as long as you are profitable.

And the time is absolutely right for the entrepreneurs to be starting media businesses of their own."

However, Durden says that agencies need to try hard to keep top talent, by trying to reinvent themselves frequently and launching into new areas.

"For companies to succeed they need to be driving for something that is not just existing. PHD has gone from being a big player in the UK to a medium-sized player globally."

But while this expansion might excite Durden, others suggest that lifestyle trends are working against media as much as any other industry. Parashar, who describes himself as "a corporate man who got to the point where it would be interesting to work with different people", wants more flexibility in his lifestyle: "This is happening but not just in media. As organisations get bigger and bigger you sense that entrepreneurs find it difficult. There is also a trend toward taking control of your own life."

Others have made more definite breaks from large media buying operations while staying within the industry. John Harlow, the managing partner at Naked Communications, is a prominent example.

Harlow identifies a problem for media agencies because creatively minded people are becoming disillusioned. He says: "There will be ever-more powerful positions for certain types of people. But the breadth of talent will become narrower because of consolidation and the domination of global systems. People's destinies are tied-up with those of big global media players who are driving economies of scale. They are also driven by big advertising networks that don't always have a great understanding of the way media is going."

The Naked argument is that media is split between implementation and creative media. Harlow is sceptical that big buying agencies can keep talent by launching new companies: "It's very difficult because you have to give people absolute autonomy and it's very difficult to balance different skill-sets when a company has a pull toward the implementation side."

Gottlieb's vision of preserving the creative flair of the media industry will be difficult to realise as the industry changes. If you put Thomson's contention that "the whole industry is devoid of leadership but strong on management

alongside the belief of many that there are too few smaller companies launching, then the key would seem to lie with restless talent launching their own businesses within the media communications area. Durden concludes: "It's short-sighted to look at the big picture and get depressed. If you're fed up, go out and do something in our industry rather than opening a bakery in Cornwall."

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