Media Perspective: Media agencies are displaying maturity in their staff welfare

It seems staggering that a graduate would choose to work at a media agency. For a start, what kind of strangely focused character even knows what a media agency is before they leave university? And then, once these agency starters do arrive at their place of work, aren't they destined for a life of long hours and monotony that would alienate anyone not intent on dying in their fifties at their desk or in a Soho bar?

Yet hundreds continue to choose media as an option, and anecdotally those agencies that have bothered to continue with their graduate programmes are reporting healthy interest. After all, the City is a less attractive prospect than it was a year or two ago, and other sectors are cashing in.

It's easy to point the finger at media agencies. Especially by saying that they are nurturing more Delia Smiths than Keith Floyds. Staff who are effective operators but who, tied to their e-mail and Twitter, are getting out less and becoming desk jockeys who stick to formulas rather than taking risks.

But any investigation of agencies and media owners reveals that this view vastly over-simplifies matters.

Our piece on page 17 looks at some of the ways that agencies are evolving in a bid to retain staff and the article opposite this one shows that the media business can throw up interesting opportunities for its talent.

Agencies seem to be working on the strength and depth of their training and, in some cases, on flexible working hours in recognition of the work put in by staff. And some of the incentives now on offer to staff in media seem attractive when compared with other industries.

Facebook, for instance, might be laughed off as being run by a bunch of West Coast hippies but its offer of £10 meal vouchers for breakfast, lunch and dinner to staff who are tied to the office combines altruism with commercial motives. That thirty quid a day could be money well spent if the result is a team marching on its stomach and motivated to spend longer hours in the office.

On the training front, I was slightly sniffy in this column a few months back when describing Starcom MediaVest Group's "we create the space for ideas" proposition. But the epic level of training that each member of its staff has received to support the new positioning is genuinely impressive and gives the agency a chance of succeeding by motivating teams to create better work for clients.

So among all the terrible stories of redundancies, pay freezes, cancelled parties and long hours, there are positive signs that media is growing into a mature, responsible business. But those under-investing in the necessary staff recruitment, support and training will find that they come to regret it in later years.

ian.darby@haymarket.com

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