A better deal for young adland is worth advertising

Phil Georgiadis and Ian Pearman explain what steps Nabs is taking to help the careers of young employees and improve staff retention rates.

Ian Pearman, Chairman of NABS
Ian Pearman, Chairman of NABS

In a bid to aid talent retention, Nabs has launched a Partner Card initiative to help younger adland employees improve their careers by offering exclusive access to events and one-to-one mentoring from industry heavyweights. In the wake of the launch, Ian Pearman and Phil Georgiadis, the chairman and president of Nabs respectively, give their views on the state of staff retention today.

Are agencies good enough at retaining staff?

Ian Pearman: Unfortunately, a small minority of agencies seem to regard churn as financially efficient; if employees stay for a short period of time, there is little obligation on the employer to commit resources to career development or salaries. It is in these instances that employees need to look to outside sources to help them with career progression. There is no doubt that these few damage the reputation of our industry. It has created a perception - both within our business and outside it - that employees have to move agencies every couple of years to progress. Thankfully, most agencies don't act like this.

Phil Georgiadis: I think all companies recognise the importance of offering fulfilling careers to their staff. We are all working hard to identify the "secret sauce" for maximising retention. Paying a competitive salary and offering benefits on top of the base salary - annual bonus, pension and so on - is obviously an essential foundation, but often the reasons people move on are not directly "package-related".

How can retention be improved?

PG: My starting point would be to learn to respect what we do more when it comes to engaging with the advertiser community. Employees need to know their bosses are protecting them from being exploited unreasonably by the demands of new business in particular.

IP: It's the elephant in the room, but pay relative to other sectors continues to be an issue. One only needs to compare an industry salary survey of ten years ago with one in 2012 to see how deflationary pressures on our business have flowed through in real terms. The irony of financial strain is that it reminds everyone of the importance of what academics call "psychic rewards", which are as important as, if not more important than, financial rewards in motivation.

Are there sufficient initiatives in place, internally or externally, to help businesses retain staff?

IP: The recent Sunday Times Best Companies survey highlighted many of the great initiatives going on across the business. These are symbolically important but, ultimately, must always complement systems of professional development that lay down clear paths of challenge, support and reward for employees - something that the Partner Cards can help with.

PG: All agencies will have their interpretation of what they must do to retain talent - entertainment, good offices, conferences and training - and working with Nabs on something such as the Partner Card can help this. But the most important external factor to staff retention is effective client retention.

What do you find works the best in retaining talent?

PG: I know when we fail to communicate adequately things can go wrong. I would say communication is key, followed by a strong training programme and a relaxed but businesslike office environment.

IP: Culture is key. I often think we forget that our relatively small size and founder heritage means agency cultures are much richer than most of the client organisations we work with. They are hard things to define, but I think agencies can be broadly plotted on an axis of "carrot" to "stick", reflecting the views of the founders/managers about how best to motivate people.

Are there differences between hard and soft skills, such as the importance of coaching/building rapport rather than just training?

PG: Yes, and you need both. The hard skills build an individual's value and the soft skills retain them. Increasingly, I think staff will want to know their company is being a good corporate citizen and here we can all do better. A by-product of doing the right thing will be that staff loyalty will be enhanced. The Nabs Partner Card is a tangible demonstration to them that we care about our industry and its people and that we support its work in looking after those who have fallen on hard times or in offering advice to those who want it. The win-win is that our people can avail themselves of the opportunities that Partner Cards present - a virtuous circle as the benefits derive from the time pledged by the industry's leaders, all of whom have benefited from this great industry.

IP: The IPA does a great job of promoting skills for professional development and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development scheme provides a great mechanism for encouraging industry-wide standards. But, on the softer skills, Nabs can also help. It already offers support and mentoring services that any industry employee can access, but agencies can always do more to encourage their employees to get the most from these. The Nabs Partner Card scheme is designed to help agencies do just that - providing staff with a tangible way to access packages of support, training and benefits. The fact that the uptake has been so good bodes well for the reputation of our industry.