Contributed by Chiradeep Gupta, Regional Director, Starcom Media Worldwide


Chiradeep Gupta

The other day when I met a friend of mine over drinks he mentioned and I quote, “It’s been just 2 years with this agency and I am now the second longest serving person after the CEO”. Got me thinking.

People are the biggest asset in our industry. Every single organisation claims to be entirely people-centric in their philosophy and values. Am not in a position to comment on or judge the authenticity of that. Yet the lack of talent still seems to be the biggest cause of headaches across organisations. And to just complicate matters the high turnover rates don’t help.

Based on my limited knowledge, some interesting chats over Google talk with a close friend in another agency in Shanghai and general observation I could identify the following reasons why the sorry state of affairs (* please refer to the disclaimer):

(A) The Leaky Bucket Syndrome – Fresh out of university with a vision to change the world of marketing and advertising the young professional starts his first job. He wants to revolutionize advertising, only to perform the following tasks for the first year – Photo Copy, fill endless mindless excel templates, run errands for the boss, organise tea/snacks for meetings, stay back till late [in case there is an urgent need]. The result – complete and utter disillusionment. So the individual chooses to start his search for greener pastures and look for opportunities in other industries

(B) The lack of evolving marketing courses – No one talks about change nowadays. In fact most conversations are about the ever shortening innovation cycles. I think the cliché ‘change is constant’ has now been replaced by ‘the rate of change has become even faster’. The marketing, advertising and branding ecosystem is constantly evolving. Gone are the days of just focusing on the 4 Ps, the RTB, Positioning, the copy, the tagline… Unfortunately marketing and advertising curriculum haven’t evolved at that pace. So there is no more the luxury of zero gestation periods. The first 6 months in the organisation essentially become an extension of that MBA, marketing or IMC course. The managers don’t have the time and one essentially ends up with mediocre talent and the leaky bucket syndrome sets in. This affects not only the agencies but even clients with the new breed of talent not able to adapt to the evolving environment, yet tasked with driving strategies. The result is a highly combustible concoction of egos, differing POVs and general chaos – essential time is lost and what finally gets executed is a shadow of what was once a great idea.

(C) The downward spiral of commissions – Commissions and fees are on a downward spiral. With sourcing and procurement playing an even more important role in the overall agency selection process negotiations have become tougher and agencies don’t end up making enough money. On top of that the world of marketing communications is getting further split with more and more specialist agencies entering the fray [Mobile, social] – As smaller pie cut into even more pieces. To get good talent one needs to pay. Unfortunately, with such pressures on the P&Ls, right compensation is always an issue and as soon as good talent realise their actual worth they move on to other industries. With the demand for good talent on a high, agencies and clients who are miserly with compensations tend to lose the race.

(D) The ‘you got a new designation’ syndrome – We love creating and giving out new designations, creating new levels and managing perceptions – after all we are in the business of ‘positioning’. The only issue is, the designation doesn’t come with a new job role. If at all it might come with even more responsibilities so the net result would be: the work increase is greater than the momentary joy of a new designation. If one is really lucky he might end up with significant financial increase to keep him going for some more time in that state of hypnosis.

(E) The ‘band-aid’ mindset – When someone just quit and an appropriate replacement doesn’t look like a possibility in the near future, one looks for the quick solution to cover that wound. It is temporary and keeps the client happy till that wound is healed. But, what about that talent – how long does she continue with that band-aid tag? – Just about long enough for her to quit.

The Issue is essentially two-fold. The first is that of ensuring the constant flow of fresh and qualified talent and the second is about retaining the right talent. One must remember that the cost of acquiring new talent at senior levels is more than retaining good talent.

While different organisations have different methods to cater to the ‘retention’ bit, the intention behind this write-up is to just highlight that as an issue. The first step would be to invest in a talent head. Some have already set out on the right path and the testament would lie in revisiting the turnover rates. In fact, as clients set about choosing their agency of choice this should be a key criterion.

On the bit about fresh talent I see huge opportunity. Given the sheer importance of ensuring that steady pipeline of great talent, the courses across universities need to evolve and constantly remain current. To get there they need to get closer to the industry. In fact even pioneer the thinking behind adoption of new media, setup research centres, encourage entrepreneurship and fund & incubate ideas. The attempt should always be to be one step ahead of the curve.

Looking forward to meeting that same friend of mine 2 years from now in the same organisation telling me how 2 years hence he is still the second oldest employee in a rapidly growing organisation.


*the thoughts expressed in this article are purely a point of view and any references to any individual is purely unintentional.