Media Forum: Is media still a great career?

Has the industry retained its cachet in the job market, Alasdair Reid asks.

The last time we used our annual "talent" issue to ask media people about the desirability of their industry as a career choice, we received a somewhat mixed response. They tended to agree the upsides were as strong as ever. However, on the debit side of the equation, there was a general anxiety about the comparative attractions (big starting salaries, basically) of the City - and, in particular, about the lure of private equity.

Not so very long ago, private equity not only offered (in theory) big bucks, but it also claimed to hold the destiny of the media world (the more interesting media owner bits of it, anyway) in its hands.

Well, how silly that theory seems now - for the time being, at least. And let's face it, the City is a slightly more dangerous work environment than it's ever been before - though that big bloke with the day-glow Mohican lurching towards you with a can of White Lightning in his hand might not actually be a protester. He might just turn out to be a fellow currency trader in serious dress-down mode.

But lest we get too smug about the discomforts being experienced by former Masters of the Universe, let's also remember that many of last week's protesters were carrying "boo to consumerism" banners and placards. Once they've done with the City, they'll surely get round to pondering the notion that it (whatever it is) is the fault of advertising in the first place.

Which might just be another factor to weigh in the balance when it comes to the perennially delicate issue of how the business is perceived in the wider world.

So, can the media business still hope to attract - and indeed keep - interesting, sparky, talented people? Of course it can, Ian Clark, the managing director of thelondon-paper, responds. After all, media is full of great brands, dynamic companies and lively workplaces.

He adds: "Media companies are stimulating places to work and newspapers, in particular, have always been fast paced. A lot of energy goes into creating an entire newspaper every day and that produces an environment that's buzzing. At thelondonpaper, we have the added advantage of having staff who are smack in the middle of the core demographic, and can readily associate with the brand."

Clark points out that most big media companies have strong training schemes that will aid career progression. That's got to be attractive. Marc Mendoza, the chief executive of MPG, says that's true of agencies too - and he argues that the sector is good not just at attracting talent, but at retaining it too. And while it may be true that career paths are more structured these days, that doesn't mean that the media world has become dull.

"Clearly, the banking sector is no longer as attractive as it was. It was an issue when it was easier to find a starting salary in the City of £50,000 - and (like-for-like) we weren't offering anything like that," he says.

And it's certainly true that media owners are always inundated by applicants, Mike Parker, the head of strategic sales and commercial marketing at Channel 4, reveals. That holds true for jobs on the commercial as well as the content side. He explains: "I don't think media has lost any of its glamour - and if you look at the lists of the top 100 companies to work for, media companies (both agencies and media owners) are always in there."

What's more, Jane Ratcliffe, the chief executive of MediaCom, argues, the industry is more exciting and creative than it has ever been. She concludes: "It's not just about planning and buying; these days, it's about mobile and digital and content creation and event marketing. So we should be out there extolling our virtues. But I don't think we should be worried about getting people who've failed to find what they want in the City.

"There are more people available, that's true - but I don't necessarily think they're better qualified or better people. So (the challenge) remains the same. It's about attracting people who are right for this industry."

YES - Ian Clark, managing director, thelondonpaper

"Media is full of lively workplaces. Why wouldn't the industry attract the best talent? Perhaps a few heads were turned in the past by the City, but I suspect the implosion of the banks will curtail that."

YES - Marc Mendoza, chief executive, MPG

"I know people say that the business isn't as interesting as it was in the 80s (when its career structures weren't as formal). But I'd argue that there is still tremendous room for personalities to shine through."

YES - Mike Parker, head of strategic sales, Channel 4

"In terms of job satisfaction, the industry is always up there. If we lose people, it's usually to other media owners. In a job, variety is one of the most attractive things and media jobs usually have plenty of variety."

YES - Jane Ratcliffe, chief executive, MediaCom

"This business is as exciting and creative as it has ever been, so I've always thought that this has always been entirely in our own hands. It's up to us to sell the industry by extolling its virtues and attracting the best talent - the people who are right for this industry."

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