Or at least that was the view of Gordon Gekko, Michael Douglas’ high flying stocks and bonds man in 1987’s Wall Street. In many industries the hard- nosed business attitudes of the Eighties have now been replaced by a more caring and sharing “third way” of the new millennium.
Business is still in the driving seat, but increasingly there has been a realisation that human capital is a very real business tool. Invest in human capital and it will return that investment. Ignore it and the costs will become abundantly clear. And that investment has to go beyond simple salary sums.
But just how good has media been as an employer in recognising and reaping the benefits of human capital. With a sales ethos, a natural inclination to negotiate and a predilection to work hard and play hard, the media industry has long been a paradox. It’s a business about human interaction, but with the firm intention of reaping the best possible returns. The perceived wisdom is that people who work in the media live for the money, closing deals and winning commission; parlaying skills and experience for bonuses and commission.
But the findings of a survey commissioned by Media Week from market research specialist Explomarket paint a different picture. Through the summer Media Week has sought to examine just what motivates professionals to enter the media industry, and once there, what makes them sad or keeps them happy. The charts speak for themselves, but how do they square with the employment landscape?
Getting them and keeping them
The last 12 months have seen an interesting and subtle power change in media. The dotcom revolution, as well as a previous under-investment in graduate talent, has seen many employers – both media owners and agencies – struggling to find and keep quality staff. Salaries have been inflated in the chase to lock down the right people – but oddly the deciding factor for good candidates examining the fine print of the several offers before them is often not the basic salary or OTE. It’s the employee benefits. These could be anything from healthcare and pension options, company car or gym membership to flexible working hours and creche facilities, company ethos or table football in the middle of the office for those time-out moments. And even more intangibly, the decision can come down to how they feel about the company they work for, and what they think the company feels about them.
“Broadly speaking, people move jobs for one of two reasons: to get away from something or to go on to something,” says Neil Jones, director with recruitment specialist Phee Farrer Jones. “Money is usually fourth or fifth in a list of priorities after the content of the job, the particular market sector or company involved, the potential for training and development, and relationship with managers.”
Last week we examined the hard issue of money and how salary structures compared across media owners and agencies. In the second part of the survey, the emphasis is on the soft option: the non-cash benefits of working in the industry. And the survey findings seem to indicate strongly that employers ignore how their employees feel at their own risk.
“The old view that people working in media should just be grateful for the opportunity is very wide of the mark these days,” says one agency head. “There is a clear expectation now that working in media means more than money benefits. There are lifestyle implications to choosing to work in this industry – which is a big part of the reason for the stampede to new media opportunities. It offered a new and more relaxed model of working that still allowed for and relied on creativity and innovation.”
Karen Fleming, director of recruitment specialist Lipton Fleming, agrees.
“I think there has been a bit of a change in the way employers are having to compete for talent in the marketplace,” she says. “Not just salaries, but the way they treat their staff and that means offering pensions, healthcare, and so on, across the board as we have seen candidates become more interested in these benefits. It is a whole lifestyle thing.”
While the job may well be about chasing the revenue or making the best deal you can, the personal negotiation need not stick to the pounds, shillings and pence. And as most sectors are coming to realise that they have to be competitive in salary terms, the real point of difference can be the “softer” benefits or the working atmosphere.
“It is certainly not salaries that encourage people to move, and I don’t think it ever has been,” says Alan Hay, managing director of recruitment specialist The Media Partnership. “I have never known anyone to leave a job they have been in or accept another on the basis of salary. There is a huge fallacy that sales people are driven by pecuniary rewards. What does drive them is achievement, success and recognition. When they move, it is because they want to learn and develop. There are more vacancies than ever before for suitably qualified candidates. What that means from an employers point of view is that good people have an option to choose where they want to go.
Melanie Roberts, managing director of recruitment specialist Sales Associates adds to this point: “I think a lot of employees are becoming more savvy, many West End companies are offering things such as gym membership and others are offering life insurance. So there can be a situation where there is not much money but good benefits. You’ve got a lot of people coming from places that don’t offer training and it’s seen as being a distinction compared to firms that don’t offer it. It is a ‘prove you love me’ type of thing. It doesn’t have to be formal training, it’s also about development. It is very much a candidate’s market, so they can demand much more now.”
Training and personal development are key to the employment decisions, and employers are having to face up to proving their love as a key aid to retention.
“These days, the majority of media owners see training to be essential to their businesses,” says Andy Ives, senior consultant at recruitment specialist Fletcher Schlaefli. “The main reason being that more candidates ask at interview stage what training is provided, so it is vital in order to get staff in the first place. It is also necessary in order to get the most out of staff, and generate as much revenue as possible. Thirdly, training is an important factor in staff retention, with staff less likely to leave a job that offers excellent training and development.”
Training on the job
Employee demand for training will only increase as new media such as interactive TV enter the picture. “There is a massive skill shortage, and employees want their whole skill set to be kept completely up-to-date, so they feel like they are still at the leading edge and are not being left behind by new developments,” says Nick Gillett, director of new media training specialist Shedlight. “They want to feel like they are in a part of the industry that is going somewhere, not in a bit in decline.”
Liza Iannucci, commercial manager with recruitment specialist Price Jamieson agrees. “I think media owners have definitely changed their attitude towards salaries, benefits and training. In fact I can’t really think of any that believed it was OK to offer low wages, few benefits and no training. Candidates are more aware of what they want from perks and benefits and also which ones they are prepared to sacrifice for the right job.”
Hay at The Media Partnership believes the dearth of available candidates, particularly in traditional media and at the more junior level, is a major primer for employers looking beyond salary.
“Employers recognise that it is difficult to attract people so they are doing more to look after their employees,” he says. “It is widely perceived this is to do with dotcoms, and there are some big media owners who feel they can’t attract the right calibre of person because of dotcoms. But we have been through the initial push and come out the other side of it. People have realised they don’t have to be in that sector to guarantee success.”
You just can’t get the staff...
Hay and others believe a lack of quality staff has been an ongoing problem since the recession in the early Nineties. When the lean times approach the first thing to go is the graduate training programme, followed by training generally. The lack of experienced and skilled media professionals on both sides of the fence with three to five years’ experience make the existing candidates more bankable.
And the new graduates and industry juniors have a much higher sense of their own worth.
“In the context of the problems over the last year, larger companies are realising that the junior of today is the serious talent of five years’ hence,” says Neil Barnes. “The industry has never been very good at selling itself as the employer of choice. And graduates have much higher expectations these days. They don’t just want cash, they want development, and they can afford to vote with their feet.”
The range of ways to make employees feel good about themselves is vast, and some key companies have cottoned on to the fact that packages of perks don’t have to be set in stone. In other words, different employees will require different elements at different times in their professional life.
“People have got much more inventive about the packages they are offering, whereas before it was just salary and a company car,” says Gill Hollis, managing director at recruitment specialist The Davis Company. “Now, it might be you want more holidays or sabbaticals. And lots more is being done to attract mothers back, and small things count – like allowing single parents to go home early on a particular day. There are also share options, company loans, and so on. Vitally, good companies are being flexible and allowing people to choose what they want. You might be young and fit and not want healthcare for example. Inevitably, candidates are becoming more aware of their position in the marketplace and their ability to negotiate their packages.”
The ideal job
In many cases the appeal of the dotcom was specifically that it offered a less cynical approach to working, with all the pioneering of the Wild West. In many ways it was the perfect combination: the chance to work the way you wanted, and hopefully earn big bucks into the bargain.
Of course another reason for the more complex approach to the whole employee package is the shift in the media landscape requiring a more complex batch of skills and abilities. As cross-selling has become a fairly obvious approach to more exploiting brand extensions or portfolios with clear synergies, the relevant cross-media experience has become more sort after – and nowhere more so than in new media.
“The days when new media was seen as a road to riches are gone, but it is rewarding on a day-to- day basis – you don’t know what you’ll be doing. Not many people have worked on ITV and WAP, whereas there have been an established ways of doing things in TV for 20 or 30 years,” says Traffic Interactive client services director, Mark Wooding.
As “convergence” becomes an increasingly hackneyed expression, the reality is that selling brands across platforms, and planning and buying on an international scale and through genuinely new media requires pioneering expertise.
“There is simply more to sell, so media owners have to be competitive in order to get staff,” says Andy Ives. “Candidates are definitely aware of what they can expect in terms of benefits. It is a direct result of this situation. When someone is looking to move jobs, they not only think about basic salaries and commission, there are car allowances, stock options, pensions and so on to consider. They obviously want the best package they can get, and the company that offers these things is at a definite advantage.”
Within agencies the same rules apply, says Sally Davidson, head of recruitment at OMD UK. “Having been in media recruitment I’ve interviewed more than 1,000 professionals looking to further their career and a pattern emerges that suggests the following criteria are prime motivators: maintaining the momentum of the learning curve and not wishing to stagnate. Today’s candidate-short market people can cherry-pick their ideal job. They want to work on cars, beers or youth accounts, or specialise in new media and the best candidates can virtually write their own job spec.”
For employers, in a world where recruitment is an increasing headache, retention becomes fundamental. If you keep the right people, you don’t need to go through costly and frustrating replacement processes.
“The average attrition rate is about 35%,” says Barnes at Phee Farrer Jones. “And there are huge costs attached to replacing each individual. There are the costs in lost opportunities, in the loss to competitors, in the loss of company contact; and there are the costs of recruiting and training.”
And with these costs playing their part in the bottom line, it’s a surprise that more companies aren’t more proactive in keeping and developing staff and realising the simply business value of investing in their human capital. Media Week’s survey indicates that a massive 57% of employees don’t expect their next move to be within their current company, which should make sobering reading across the industry.
“It is a shame that it has taken the rise of the
dotcom companies to make people value their staff and appreciate them,” says Julie Salomon, managing director of headhunter The Salomon Company. “There should be a lower turnover in staff, and companies are talking to us a lot more now about how they can retain their staff. The majority of people we headhunt are not moving because of money, and the reality is that it’s very rare for people to say ‘I really like my job but I want to move for money’. Most people like to be recognised and valued at work and if they are not, that is when they become demotivated. Good management doesn’t cost very much.”
Kathryn Nall, associate director at Media Contacts, says employers ignore at their peril the desire for professionals to develop in an environment that suits them. “Candidates now seem to have more of an agenda,” she says. “More junior people will come in asking, ‘what are the benefits?’ A feeling that there is commitment from the employer is becoming more important.”
As opportunities increase and skills become more portable, there will be increasing emphasis on the employer brand. People who are proud to work for their employer will not only perform more strongly, maintain motivation and retain allegiance, they will also be good ambassadors for the business.
This article was first published on Media Week