Media Forum: Is a media career enticing?

Can a career in media still attract the best graduates, Alasdair Reid asks.

When media people talk about this business being a profession, they're not entirely kidding themselves. True, it doesn't yet boast entry exams overseen by austere institutions, but that hasn't stopped it acquiring a solidity and respectability belying its humble origins.

It has come a long way in a relatively short time. The man widely credited with starting to hire graduates is Ray Morgan, the one-time media director of Benton & Bowles and whose subsequent media independent, Ray Morgan & Partners, morphed into Zenith Media.

Before the rise of RMP, your average media agency was probably owned by a geezer with a colourful past (turf accountancy, say, by way of Hatton Garden) who tended to recruit renegades who'd suddenly found life in one of the City's less scrupulous trading pits too hot to handle. Likewise, a career in media sales was probably best attempted via an apprenticeship served at Borough Market or New Covent Garden.

The arrival of graduates at media companies was mirrored by the evolution of ever more sophisticated training schemes at media owners, supplemented by industry-wide initiatives, overseen the likes of the IPA. In recent times, the sector has become an increasingly safe, orderly and respectable world, dominated by multinational corporations. But does that make it attractive to the best and brightest entering the job market each year?

Some might argue that the industry is poorer for offering less scope for meteoric success stories. It demands the hard work and long hours expected in a profession, with few of the short- or medium-term rewards, in terms of status.

Indeed, in recent years, there have been often-voiced worries that it might be harder for the industry to attract the right stuff, especially when the worlds of management consultancy or private equity appeared to be offering such glittering prizes. The credit crunch may have helped redress that balance somewhat, but still, is media really an attractive career prospect these days?

Yes it is, Phil Georgiadis, the chief executive of Walker Media, says. He's taken on a record number of graduates this year and the quality of applicants (in terms of degrees) doesn't seem to be diminishing.

However, he cautions: "The challenge of getting to the top is a different issue. When I started, the goal was to become a media director and there were 30 or 40 agencies with media departments across town. Now, because of consolidation, there are fewer top jobs and the way the business is structured means there's less churn. The challenge is to liberate the talent that we continue to attract. On balance, I'd argue that it is an incredible amount of talent."

Dave King, the executive director at the Telegraph Media Group, says that you've always had to pay your dues to get to the top. But, despite the current market slowdown, he still believes this is an exciting time to embark on a media career.

He explains: "Huge shifts in media consumption patterns and structural changes in the marketplace make for unprecedented times. If you work hard and embrace change, your job satisfaction and remuneration will be good compared to other industries."

But is digital changing the nature of the beast? Damian Blackden, the president EMEA of Omnicom Media Group Digital, argues that the bar has been raised. He adds: "Media is getting more complex. But that means the opportunities are broader too, especially as media has become more influential. If you join a strong agency, you'll get a good grounding in a wide range of disciplines."

And Tracy Roberts, now an investment account executive at MindShare, having joined last year as a graduate, can't argue with any of that: "MindShare has supported me with training and courses including the IPA Foundation Certificate and in-house training. I feel I'm constantly developing and progressing, giving me a skill-set that I can use throughout my career."

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YES - Phil Georgiadis, chief executive, Walker Media

"Our graduate trainee scheme is more refined now than it has ever been. We're recruiting more, the quality is as good or stronger than ever and, from our experience, the progression prospects are strong."

YES - Dave King, executive director, Telegraph Media Group

"There are still great opportunities. In tough times, it is critical to hire the right people. A happy, motivated team will deliver the performance needed in difficult market conditions."

YES - Damian Blackden, president EMEA, OMG Digital

"Overall, media is a different industry to the one I joined, but no less enjoyable. Consolidation is a fact of life. There may be fewer companies but there are more senior positions in individual disciplines."

YES - Tracy Roberts, investment account executive, radio, MindShare

"The industry is vibrant, challenging and exciting. It's a very social environment with everybody being passionate about what they do. Working for a large agency has offered me great opportunities to learn with the best."