Winning the talent competition

Finding and hanging on to the best recruits is vital, so Marketing gathered key figures from across the industry to discuss new ideas and approaches. Laura Howes reports.

Winning the talent competition

Recruiting, retaining and developing talent is key to the success of any business and sector. However, thanks to budgetary pressures and the proliferation of technological channels and platforms, marketing, as a discipline, needs to meet these challenges more than most.

At Marketing’s first annual Training & Development roundtable, our participants gave us the lowdown on how the sector is faring and what brands, businesses and marketers themselves can do to tackle these issues.

Is the industry putting the right focus on training and development?

Ken Fitzpatrick I think there’s a tremendous appetite from businesses to get better training and education solutions. There’s a little bit of playing catch-up in some cases, but it’s absolutely imperative that there are good education systems out there because otherwise businesses will start to fall behind.

Mike Cornwell I think the investment, training and willingness is there, but to go to the very beginning, largely, marketing training in universities is at best workmanlike and at worst out  of date. It’s a real issue because the kids  that are coming through that particular production line aren’t really employable.

Omnicom has a brilliant philosophy: "Hire for attitude, train for skill". So what they’re looking for is personality – a character, an attitude – because if they’re bright, then they can learn anything.

But there’s no portal to marketing. There’s no one organisation that’s able to co-ordinate the activities to get the best talent into the business. We should be helping the industry create a portal to get the best talent into it, but train talent.

KF The single biggest issue that I come across is what defines a good digital marketer. If you want to be a doctor or lawyer, there’s a clear set of defined standards, but that doesn’t exist yet in the digital industry.

Sarah Tate I had a really interesting chat with new talent the other day about the recruitment process. They said: "Firstly, we don’t know what jobs are out there, so we just take the first one we come up against because there’s no clear description at any point about what they are.

"Secondly, we’re attracted to it because we have a hazy idea that it’s going to be creative. The industry needs to get better at setting out recruitment processes to reflect that creative and entrepreneurial spirit.

"I don’t want to go in and have several really corporate interviews and read a job description. I want them to advertise themselves to me. Use those skills in the world of advertising to market the job to me."

Jenny Healy There are a lot of apprenticeship schemes, for example the IPA’s Creative Pioneers scheme, and we’re getting a lot of really good talent that way.

A lot of marketing can be taught; it’s more about behaviours and communication skills, and Millennials are very switched-on and learn those things very quickly.

I think especially with [the introduction of] fees at university there’ll be a lot of changes in the next few years, and a shift in people attending, so we’ll need to look for talent differently.

Laura Jones When I started I did a marketing Master’s degree, and it was horrendously outdated. There was nothing on digital marketing whatsoever, and I felt like I left with very limited practical experience, mostly just theories and outdated business models. I found it quite difficult to get a job at first, but then I found that learning on the job was the best part of the role.

Claire Whittingham People that want to come into the marketing industry don’t need to have marketing backgrounds as long as they have transferable skills, and it’s important that the net is open to all backgrounds. People often do go to university without knowing what they want to do, and marketing shouldn’t exclude them.

What is the big training challenge?

JH If we’re going to invest in this talent, we need to retain it. There are great complexities in what we’re training people on, but it’s about giving those people careers – looking at career-planning, both short and long term – so show them some sort of career path, either with you or within your group if you’re part of a wider network

Claire Baumforth I think the industry needs to work at a grass-roots level with what marketing’s all about, and update that at university level. There need to be a lot more partnerships with businesses and universities to drive that talent through so that it lands in marketing and not other professions.

ST It’s clear that’s there’s a big skill-set gap, but the rate of change in the industry makes these skill-set training programmes hard to design. That’s why universities find it so difficult as well.

CW The industry is changing so quickly that what we need to teach people are behaviours and how to identify new trends, rather than specific skills, so that it doesn’t matter if you do a course across six months or some new technology has come out, you can still be in a good position to apply the learning.

Philip Macartney I read about a company where 40% of its revenue now comes from digital, because a while ago the chief executive made the huge shift of moving from traditional media to digital.

They’re now finding it easier to attract better and brighter people because there’s more money and more kudos in the organisation for success.

I think the difficulty is for leaders to convince the boards that digital is actually not just for kids who play around on mobile devices; this is a really serious part of the business.

Top tips from the table

We need to collaborate to set digital-marketing standards and convince corporate to invest more in it. Ken Fitzpatrick

Improve practical, skills-based training so the industry can move forward. Claire Whittingham

University students: get as much practical experience as possible before you leave. Laura Jones

Make sure digital training is kept up to date. Philip Macartney

Make sure there are long-term career opportunities for the talent you’re investing in. Jenny Healy

Don’t just invest in sending people on training, give them time to fully learn the material and think strategically about how best to use it. Sarah Tate

What are the key marketing disciplines that we need to focus on?

PM Two of the key skill-sets needed are analytics and mobile marketing – 31% and 29%, respectively, is the difference between what we have and what we need, and I think that tells its own story.

The past few years have been about understanding what we need, and now we’re looking at where to get our skill-sets – do we get them straight out of university and give them skills, or do we pay over the odds and poach them when they’re already trained?

MC There is one sector that’s come late to digital and that’s pharma, in its broader sense, partly because it was frightened of breaking down the traditional salesmen-surgery partnerships. Of course, [the sector] is also hamstrung by what it can and cannot do regulatory-wise. So now it’s going out of its way to attract the best and brightest in digital.

Whose responsibility is training?

LJ I think it’s a joint responsibility. You want to join a company where there are training opportunities, but at the same time if you don’t ask for it when you think you need it, then you’re not going to get it.

PM Digital is constantly moving on by its nature, so one piece of training will not keep you sustained in terms of digital knowledge for the rest of your career. The onus is on the participants for continual learning.  I think the company should provide the first core training, but as you move on it’s down to that person.

CB I think it’s the responsibility of both, but client-side, one of the major issues is getting the organisation to change the way they view personal development. It can sometimes be quite difficult, especially with smaller teams and smaller budgets, to get some of those things through.

Read the Training and Development essays