The Industry Club

Campaign50: Learning is for life

Melissa Smith, managing director and founder, The Industry Club, highlights why ongoing training is key to unlocking future talent.

Melissa Smith, managing director and founder, The Industry Club
Melissa Smith, managing director and founder, The Industry Club

Having my very own 50th milestone soon (in my case years, not anniversary), a throwback piece for Campaign's 50th anniversary seems timely. I started out 29 years ago at Saatchi & Saatchi when advertising was a thrilling industry and client budgets were substantial. Margaret Thatcher was fiercely holding on in office and the agency Christmas parties were epic. In 1989, our Christmas party was thrown at Ally Pally as a recreation of Charlotte Street, with London buses, Tube station and all the restaurants from the landmark road – just for the agency staff.

The only constant is change

That was a glamorous time to work in the industry, but the only constant is change, and that’s how I
like it. It keeps advertising and recruitment on their toes. The world is changing at record speed and
technological advancements have revolutionised our industry. New technology, wrapped around
a great idea, creates opportunities, allowing the industry to constantly evolve and stay exciting. This
speed of change requires agencies to reinvent their strategies and continually redefine people’s roles.

Hybrid teams

Until recently, a brief for recruitment was straightforward. The marketing process was logical
and predictable, and everyone knew their role in that linear process. The most recent development
in recruitment is a demand for dynamic, lean and hybrid teams with multiple skill sets who work in
an agile way. Finding and engaging individuals with this dexterity is inspiring; but my challenge is the
well-documented diversity issue. Dynamic, agile, fresh – words I see on job descriptions daily. No
need to be in the Bletchley Circle to crack that code.

Older audiences, massive opportunity

The spending power of the over-50s has never been greater and forecasts predict that in 50 years’ time
40% of the population in the UK will be over 50 years old. This is an opportunity brands appear to be neglecting. Our industry needs to get better at understanding and valuing this audience, and retaining older talent is key. To quote Alan Young, executive creative director at St Luke’s: "Intuitively
understanding what makes an audience tick comes with age."


Learning and development

The key for older members of an agency is to adapt, be flexible and hungry to continue to learn. This is a challenge when training budgets are at best hard to come by and, at worst, non-existent. We set up  The Industry School in response to candidates telling us they weren’t being developed by their agencies. It’s easy to write people off due to age rather than train them, but this will not make your business strong. Nor is it a good look as far as your staff are concerned. A better approach is to weigh up the long-term value that training adds to your business against the short-term budgeted cost. The former is invariably greater than the latter.

What does value look like?

For your employees, it means improved morale, new and enhanced skills and a new-found confidence. Back at their desks, their mood is infectious, meaning the value of their training rubs off on people who weren’t there. They work more efficiently and inspire others to do the same. Training increases output
and reduces recruitment costs – replacing people who leave is disruptive, while recruiting instead of training and promoting from within limits opportunities. Training is as much about future-proofing your agency and boosting profits as it is about developing specific skills.

More investment in training and a much bigger focus on developing talent of all ages is needed to unlock the skills and talent the industry needs to thrive now, let alone in 50 years’ time.

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