MEDIA: SPOTLIGHT ON: MEDIA RECRUITMENT; Who is to blame when media planners are in short supply?

Has media let its trainees down by under-investing? Alasdair Reid investigates

Has media let its trainees down by under-investing? Alasdair Reid


The advertising industry knows what happens when it fails to invest in

important skills - it comes apart at the seams. There’s always someone

ready to take advantage of complacency. Media independents, for

instance, only came into existence because full-service agencies didn’t

think it was important to invest in their media departments. A lesson

learned painfully - and not one that the business is likely to need

teaching again. Is it?

Well, yes, as a matter of fact it is, according to Paul Longhurst, the

media director of Ammirati Puris Lintas (Campaign, last week). He has

been trying to hire media planners who have about three years’

experience and he doesn’t much care for what he has uncovered. The

average up-and-coming media planner, Longhurst reckons, is listless,

lacking in vision and nervous of some of the powerful forces - like

consolidation of ownership on the media-owner side, centralisation of

accounts on the client side - that continue to shape the market.

Young media planners are dull jobsworths more suited to routine

administrative work or commodity trading, he believes.

Longhurst blames many factors. The industry is still in a state of flux

- the large advertising holding companies such as WPP, Omnicom and

Interpublic still haven’t finalised their media structures. That can

lead to staff insecurity at lower levels and has produced a generation

of managers who don’t know whether it’s worth investing in training. A

related problem has been the trend of moving planning away from the

creative resource and placing it alongside the buying function.

Longhurst suggests that, at the big buying points, media planners do

more than make sure that the right boxes are ticked.

Is he right? And if he is, where does all the recent hype about the

importance of media planning come from? Mandy Pooler, the managing

director of the Network, says there is a grain of truth in what

Longhurst says but she strongly disagrees with the notion that the

industry is failing to invest in talent. ‘In the last year, we have

taken on 12 graduates of the very highest calibre. We are spending more

on training than ever before. When you have a recruitment policy that

gives you people that account management are begging for within a year,

then you know you’re getting it right,’ she states.

‘But we have also been recruiting slightly more experienced people

recently and it’s true that they are getting harder to find. I think

that’s because our standards are now higher than they were. It’s perhaps

true that some agencies are only paying lip-service to the media side

and are not giving it the priority it deserves. These days clients give

media a very high priority indeed. The media operations that begin to

lag behind will be caught out, they will start losing business very

quickly indeed.’

So, is there a skills crisis? Well, yes and no. Bob Offen, the managing

director of Mediastar, says it was ever thus. ‘There’s hardly anyone in

the industry with two or three years’ experience because no-one was

recruiting three years ago,’ he points out. ‘Those who were taken on

were hired as an extra pair of hands in a crisis and didn’t get much

chance to learn.

‘But if we were honest we’d all admit that the advertising industry

isn’t any good at training or very good at recruiting. If you go to a

big company such as Procter and Gamble it has incredible training

systems in place. Advertising is all about small companies surviving on

tight margins. No matter how much you’d like to change things you have

to recognise the constraints of the system - in advertising, people

learn on the job. But, training or no training, you’d have to be a

supreme optimist to expect someone with three years’ experience to be a

strategic planner. Twenty years is more like it.’