question of the week

The Talent Crisis: Is Adland Putting Its Money Where Its Mouth Is?

Following the AA's newly-released investment in talent strategy, we ask whether its action points are sufficiently bold

By Creative Salon

In response to the talent shortage currently plaguing the advertising industry, the Advertising Association has penned its Investing In Our Talent's Future report, which outlines a new strategy for reviving the industry as a viable career option for young people, as well as better recruit and retain talent.

The suggested preliminary actions include: "plans for a campaign to promote advertising as a career choice to young people, a central industry hub for professional skills training, increased successful uptake of the apprenticeship scheme and support on best practice around hybrid working."

But in a post-Covid, post-Brexit world, during peak-inflation and mid European conflict, is this going far enough? Can the industry regain trust, succeed with inclusivity and produce sustainable advertising to better connect with young people?

We spoke to a number of industry insiders to find out.

Jen Berry, chief executive, Digitas UK

Talented people are at the heart of our industry. Investing in, retaining and broadening the spectrum of talent is critical for us to continue to solve client challenges and deliver human centric, connected and engaging experiences for our customers, clients and importantly to contribute to culture and the economy in a genuine and authentic way. We’ve long made this our priority at Digitas, so this impetus from the Advertising Association to drive further change through a corporate industry strategy is welcome.

If we are to harness the talent and ambitions of the younger generation, we need to work with them to shape the future, understanding them not just as future talent and consumers but as a reflection and tastemakers of a digital-first society. We also need to demonstrate that the industry is open for anyone to thrive irrespective of their background and circumstances, while removing barriers to entry and providing ongoing support for their success and advancement.

That’s where tools such as Anon CV, our free CV anonymiser, can help - ensuring CVs are selected purely on merit. We’ve also implemented a broader, more inclusive approach to early-stage career development with three programme streams aimed at different cohorts, from school leavers to graduates, accelerating their learning and setting them up to be active participants and voices of our business.

While we look to bring in future talent, we should continue to incentivise our existing talent, who are the current champions and evangelists of what our industry is truly capable of.

Sally Vincent, head of people, Grey London

For a fleeting moment, there’s almost a sense of relief to finally see what we’ve known has been happening in our industry for so long, printed clearly in black & white. That feeling doesn’t linger however, as it is soon replaced with an alarming recognition that we have been stalled in doing enough to address it.

As they develop their specific Action Plan, it is paramount that the Advertising Association does not ignore what is needed to rebuild trust with those who are still working in our industry. We must prioritise mending the fence: addressing the barriers facing so many today around belonging, fair pay, workload, sustainability concerns, growth and adequate wellbeing support. It would be dangerous, and potentially more damaging, to recruit new (potentially younger) talent into the industry before we have made greater strides and improvements in those areas.

There is a definite sense of optimism I feel however when considering what can be achieved if our industry experts can rally together and work in partnership to improve the prospects of a career in advertising. Who better to address such a challenge than experts on culture change?

Richard Aldiss, managing director, McCann Manchester

I was fortunate to hear Alessandra Bellini, AA’s president, deliver the collective vision for at LEAD. I left feeling encouraged and optimistic and confident in the plan.

Let’s look at the positives, the industry has come together to address our downfalls and by acknowledging the shortages, we are putting ourselves in prime position to address the problem.

Our collective efforts are imperative, the whole is of course bigger than the sum of its parts and if we all take this journey together and get behind the goals we will drive real change.

A couple of the actions standout.

We must put our industry in front of new talent – advertising advertising is key. The IPA is making good strides here, its Advertising Unlocked initiative for example, is a great way of introducing our industry to secondary school pupils. The Manchester Publicity Association is also showcasing our industry through its A Place for You initiative, with faces of those working in the industry appearing OOH across the city, most importantly the faces shown often challenge the ‘stereotypical’ advertising persona.

Apprentice schemes are close to our hearts at McCann Manchester, having launched one of the first industry schemes in 2011. Our experience has taught us that the schemes help attract those switching career as well as school leavers.

If we combine all the action points and continue championing DE&I, I am confident we will see real change over the next three years.

Miranda Hipwell, group managing director, adam&eveDDB

We need to get better at doing what we do so well for our clients and drive awareness and penetration of our industry with as broad an audience as possible. The notion of an advertising campaign for advertising might sound obvious but it couldn’t be more important.

There are so many benefits of working in a creative environment - we use creativity to change the fortunes of organisations and, at our best, create change that saves lives, the planet and lots of other seismic stuff – we need new talent to be exposed to these benefits in a way that matters to them. We also need to be honest about the negatives of our industry and be proactive about resolving them if we want to welcome and nurture a diverse cohort of future leaders.

The future of our industry is only as bright as our talent, so let’s start as any good campaign should - gathering our understanding, working on our brief, then connecting with future talent in meaningful ways that ensure the acquisition, loyalty and advocacy of bright, brilliant people.

Claudia Wallace, managing director, BMB

My initial response: “is that it?” This is a phenomenally in-depth study by the Advertising Association revealing some pretty shocking truths about the industry and this is all we really need to do immediately? Meh. How’s that going to shift anything?

Deep breaths. Reminding myself that this is a huge, complex problem which will take a long time to change. And whilst these initial actions appear underwhelming at first glance, they are actually actionable steps. And that’s probably the most important thing about an action plan: don’t get distracted from doing it.

There is so much rich information and insight in the Talent Report that, in addition to the five Immediate Action Points, I would have liked to see some helpful thought-starters for agencies and marketers.

What can we do to kick-start change in our organisations? What are the priorities to start working on immediately? For example, some quick fixes for retention like mapping out and showcasing career paths or steps for creating a more rewarding workplace.

This is an excellent wake up call for the advertising industry, and as Stephen Woodford says, it provides the “groundwork for a definitive action plan”.

It has successfully prompted me to act immediately.

Sarah Donovan, people engagement director, Goodstuff

The report’s observations and recommendations are sound, but they don’t go far enough in addressing the industry’s systemic issues.

Our industry reputation is severely lacking; we have a big job reversing that, particularly outside of London. We have issues with workforce decline, a skills shortage, perceived uncompetitive salaries and burnout. A burgeoning industry outside of London and initiatives like VCCP’s Stoke Academy are illustrative of the benefits of operating outside of our ‘London bubble’.

I love the intent of the AA report, but we need more, which the full strategy must address. Otherwise, our dreams of being diverse and inclusive will remain just as dreams.

Agencies need to work together better to improve things.

We need to be more transparent about offering salary data, so prospective talent knows their earning potential and how it compares to other industries. The IPA collates this, so it should be published.

We need to ‘advertise advertising’ more. For example, Goodstuff’s partnership with careers platform, Your Game Plan, makes a co-created media and advertising module available to UK state schools and colleges, and aims to bring more diverse talent into our industry.

We need to make more of NABS’ brilliant industry-wide services and forge partnerships with organisations like Self Space to support industry-wide mental health. These are essential, particularly given the miasma of global existential crises of late.

These suggestions would be a start, but a seismic shift is only possible if we’re all in it together; Goodstuff’s hands are raised.

Owen Lee, chief creative officer, FCB Inferno

Every initiative to bring fresh talent into the industry should be applauded. And if an ‘increased successful uptake of the apprenticeship scheme’ brings more diverse voices and thinking into the industry then that is to be welcomed.

But advertising needs a little more spring in its step. A little more swagger. The preliminary actions by the Advertising Association are all good, they just seem a little muted. According to Forbes, one in four young people want to be an influencer. Well, that’s a pretty short walk from wanting to be in advertising. Afterall, at its best, hasn’t advertising always influenced culture? There should be more cause for concern if one in four young people wanted to be Chartered Accountants.

Not many careers allow you to work so closely with the tech platforms, the film industry, musicians, social causes and influencers than advertising. And few industries have been such a rich training ground for entrepreneurs, film directors, authors and business leaders of everything from the Football Association to Meta. With most Gen Zers contemplating a portfolio career, we should all be shouting it form the rooftops – advertising is a dynamic and exciting place to start.


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