Media Forum: Is media still attractive?

Have media agencies kept their appeal to graduates, Alasdair Reid asks.

Last week, the Aegis Media boss, Robert Horler, took Campaign to task for taking too gloomy a view of the prospects facing media agencies. "Despite reporting to the contrary, we are not all over-traded and underpaid," he maintained.

If that's genuinely the case, however, the media agency sector is suffering on the wrong side of a terrible perception gap. There's a widespread feeling, across the industry, that media agencies panicked last year and laid up troubles for themselves by promising to take on business on punitive terms.

And there's a feeling that, as a result, they have lost something of their sparkle. It's not hard to find people within creative agencies, for instance, who believe that the most interesting ideas these days tend to come from media owners.

And as for the media owners...

well, we can do no better than to quote, anonymously, one source who almost took part in this forum but who decided, after some reflection, that it might not be wise.

"There's no real leadership in media agencies that I can see currently," he said. "The people at the top are followers, not leaders. And then there's this whole middle rank whose sole purpose for existing is to say 'no'. As far as I'm concerned, there's no-one within media agencies who can add value to the communications process these days."

Even if there's the tiniest grain of truth here, the sector could be acquiring a worrying image problem. Specifically, from the point of view of Campaign's graduate issue, agencies might find that, as they look to recruit the next generation, they're struggling to attract those with the right stuff.

If the business is becoming largely process-driven, with agencies struggling to manage mechanistic trading positions on wafer-thin margins, that's hardly going to seem an attractive prospect for a bright graduate looking at the job market.

But Phil Georgiadis, the chief executive of Walker Media, doesn't believe there's a problem. He says: "It may just be me, but I have always felt that media in its broadest sense is at the heart of consumer life and, therefore, cannot escape being interesting. It's fair to say that not all a graduate gets to do in his or her apprentice years is fascinating - but which profession can claim to be exciting all the time, from day one?

"The opportunity for graduates in media agencies is better than ever. We need new thinking, fresh from the coalface of the 21st-century media landscape - and they are perfectly qualified to deliver it."

However, Andrew Challier, the managing director of Billetts UK, says it all depends on what sort of graduate you're talking about. "The roles to be filled are becoming increasingly specialised," he explains. "Media agencies are moving from being a creative environment to a more analytical one, so the skills base needs to change.

"Strategic planning, media planning, media buying, econometrics and analytics, digital media, and account management are all potential graduate roles requiring different hues, from the creative to the analytic end of the spectrum."

Surely, though, the one area we can safely assume will be a big draw is digital. Jon Harvey, the sales manager of Facebook UK, would certainly agree with that.

He argues that media continues to be one of the most dynamic industries around. He adds: "The future hinges on the ability of marketers to adapt - those who succeed will be the ones who start talking with their consumers rather than at them. In many ways, graduates have a head start in this field, as they have grown up as a part of this phenomenon. The first-hand insight they can bring will only help propel this fast-changing industry."

Tracy De Groose, the managing director of Carat, agrees. She points out, for instance, that Carat's commitment to graduate recruitment hasn't diminished - and there's every indication, in talking to the latest intake, that the industry is as attractive as it ever was.

She agrees that media is seen as a dynamic sector thanks to the pace of change in digital technologies. Graduates already live and breathe that technological dynamism - and want an even greater part of it.

She adds: "It's also true that there's an increasing breadth in the scope of the roles we offer. We're looking for broader skillsets, from techy geeks to analytical people to people who can develop content and ideas. There's an understanding that good people can move quickly through the ranks and that there are good brand names you can become associated with on the client side. Media is still an attractive option. More so than ever."

Got a view? E-mail us at

YES - Phil Georgiadis, chief executive, Walker Media

"We have employed more than 30 graduates in the past 12 months and we've still got 28 so there must be some excitement. The key is to offer a structured training programme and hands-on responsibility."

MAYBE - Andrew Challier, MD, Billetts UK

"As the media discipline becomes more analytical, it may be that the idea of the media agency as creative environment is disappearing - and perhaps less attractive to the sorts of graduate that would once have gravitated to it."

YES - Jon Harvey, sales manager, Facebook UK

"The way that consumers take in content and share it with others is evolving at an incredible pace...

This is what makes the industry really attractive to graduates because it's calling for more innovation than ever before."

YES - Tracy De Groose, MD, Carat

"Media is at the forefront of changes affecting everyday lives, whether we're taking about Google, Facebook or mobile apps. Graduates live and breathe this - so they understand that the media industry is more dynamic than ever."


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