The World: Insider's view - China

There are reasons for the extreme talent shortage in the Chinese ad industry, many of them are political and historical, Chris Thomas says.

Every chief executive in advertising puts talent at the top of their agenda. The war for talent is discussed everywhere. Nowhere is this more true than in China.

Here, the war is particularly brutal for several reasons. China's growth rates are a start. Multinational companies are investing heavily in the market and Chinese companies are developing strategies for moving up the value chain. They want to move from being low-cost suppliers to being brand owners - first in China and then globally. Both groups are desperate for experienced advice that understands the Chinese market and consumer as well the creative skills required to connect with this society.

The country's education system is a factor. Its emphasis on rote learning is great for manufacturing and infrastructure projects, but is a barrier to entry to the creative industries.

China's single child policy has bred a generation that is very individualistic. They are not used to the type of teamwork that is essential when operating a multi-disciplinary team.

The past few decades of economic history has created a highly material society, where there remains an underlying sense of fear that the current good times could go away. There is a want-it-now mentality. This drives low loyalty rates and job-hopping for a few more dollars.

The ad industry is also relatively immature and, frankly, the more famous worldwide names of our clients are often more attractive to China's brightest and best. They offer not just status and prestige, but more formal career development, training and the possible exposure to overseas experiences. So ironically in a country of 1.3 billion people, there has never been a shorter supply of the right local talent.

So what lessons can be learnt? Awareness and industry reputation is important. Omnicom has put a lot of emphasis on this, evidenced by our strategic partnerships with the leading university, Tsinghua. Initiatives like this help crystalise a growing recognition of the contribution that the creative industries can make in delivering the next stage of economic development.

Training is critical. Not just because you need to make sure your talent has the right skills for their role, but also because the best Chinese talent regards training and career development programmes as key to their long-term futures. Multinational exposure and the ability to transfer young stars to different parts of our network is also motivating - as long as you ensure that they come back and come back to you.

Finally, and for me most important, is the quality of agency leadership. The importance of the management group in building pride, in developing a culture and ensuring that a focus is brought to bear on people and career development is essential.

- Chris Thomas is the chairman and chief executive of BBDO Asia.


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