Opinion: Agencies can't turn their back on next generation

Campaign's graduate issue appears at a bitterly ironic time. Never have college-leavers, their job prospects bleak, been more eager to join the ad industry. Rarely have agencies been so badly placed to take them on. For some years, adland cursed its inability to tap the brightest talent that poured out of the best universities. No agency could match the starting salaries being offered by merchant banks and management consultants, or the "golden hellos" under which prospective employers would pay off student loans.

But the sight last year of Lehman Brothers' staff exiting their offices, their belongings stuffed in cardboard boxes, was the most potent symbol that such high-rolling days are over. Such an ill-wind has clearly blown the industry some good and there's no doubt that agencies are attracting greater interest from graduates who might previously have looked elsewhere. So it's a huge frustration that while the quality of the talent from which the industry can have its pick could scarcely be better, its ability to capitalise on that opportunity could hardly be worse.

Just how many graduate openings in adland have disappeared is hard to calculate. But the anecdotal evidence isn't good. Last year, one top-ten agency took on six graduate trainees. This year, it employed none. There's little doubt this situation isn't an isolated one.

Should this persist long term, the implications are grave. The industry is already counting the cost of its failure to invest in new blood during the economic slump of the early 90s. Failing to do so again will make it a hostage to fortune. Network agencies are already finding it hard to recruit good chief executives because of the relentless pressure to hit the numbers. How much harder will that become if the senior managers of the future aren't being hired now?

The IPA has an enviable range of training and professional development programmes. But these will count for nothing if the industry can't overcome its short-sightedness in order to safeguard its wellbeing in the testing years ahead.

Graduates by name, ad chiefs by nature

Asked what they would do if they were to launch their own agency, the graduates writing on page 26 have some refreshing ideas, even if a number of them look set to be dashed on the rocks of reality. No matter. There's real evidence here of a collective ability to think clearly about how an agency might look should the time ever come when they manage one. Good luck to them.

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