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
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.’