Agencies face shortage of buyers, planners

Canadian agencies have consistently put such an emphasis on the creative and account side of the advertising biz that their media departments are now suffering a serious shortage of both experienced and entry-level buyers and planners.

Canadian agencies have consistently put such an emphasis on the creative and account side of the advertising biz that their media departments are now suffering a serious shortage of both experienced and entry-level buyers and planners.

Geographic preferences, lack of media education courses and modest salaries are some of the reasons cited for the manpower shortage.

Philip Chant, SVP of media for Corporate Communications Limited (CCL) of Halifax, says agency layoffs in the early ’90s and cutbacks on hiring at that time have resulted in a dearth of mid-level media people.

‘Everyone out there has no experience or 10 years’ experience. There’s no one in the middle so it makes it very hard, even in Toronto.’

Chant says that with the exception of one person in his department, everyone has received his or her training and experience in larger markets such as Toronto and Montreal.

So far this has strictly been the luck of the draw, he says. When one new staffer was required, an experienced media person who was relocating to Halifax had knocked on the door. But that won’t always be the case, and it is difficult to recruit in the East Coast market, says Chant.

‘Our shop works on beer, telco, lottery, oil company and tourism accounts – pretty big accounts. Despite our quality of life here and the great accounts we get to work on, it’s very difficult to find people with a background in media buying or planning.

‘We can’t go down the street and find a dozen people to try to win over to your shop. There isn’t that depth. There isn’t a great volatile pool of people in Halifax whether in media or account service.’

This deficiency, while more apparent in western and eastern agencies, is a nationwide problem affecting even the largest centre, Toronto.

Hugh Dow, president of M2 Universal Media (the media arm of MacLaren McCann) says although his firm doesn’t have a problem attracting entry level people because of the agency’s big-brand clients and the training offered, he suspects the situation is different for small or mid-sized agencies. Finding experienced, senior media people is a big issue across the board.

‘Finding top level people is a continuing challenge. I’ve been in the business in Canada for 30 years and it was the same 30 years ago as it is today,’ says Dow. ‘A lot of middle level or senior people are moving to the rep or media supplier side of the business. And, it’s not getting any easier.’

Low salaries are an issue across the country, says Kathy Shapka, VP, media director of Palmer Jarvis DDB in Edmonton. Although there has been improvement over the past several years, she says, the media department is still the underdog at an agency.

‘When it comes to the media principle; you have to learn on the ground running. Unfortunately, by the time these juniors invest two or three years in learning their trade, salary doesn’t match the effort they’ve put in, so they move on to better things.’

Linda Bader, VP media at TAG Advertising & Marketing in Calgary, says agencies in that city are faced with a real conundrum. The industry is booming, there are plenty of jobs to be had, but, she says, there’s no one to fill them.

‘I’m at the point now that if we get one more account, I need another media person but where do I start? We’ll just end up grabbing someone who is bright and training him from scratch,’ she says. ‘If people were willing to move from Vancouver or Toronto to Alberta, they’d get a job in a second.’

Bader adds that media salaries in Calgary have pushed upwards in the past few years, primarily because there is such a demand for intermediate planners and buyers.

Like their colleagues in other Canadian markets, Calgary media directors are hungry for media education courses. That is an important requirement, Bader says, because most firms don’t have the time or the personnel for internal training and mentoring programs.

David Stanger, managing partner of DSA Baron, which has offices in Vancouver and Calgary, has been teaching a media course in the continuing education department of British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) for 16 years. He teaches three out of four semesters to standing-room only classes, all with a long waiting list to get in.

He says the courses are important because students can get degrees in communications, advertising or marketing, but they are no more equipped to be media professionals than a grade-12 graduate with computer skills and an aptitude for math is.

Aside from the lack of training available in most markets, Stanger says a major and continuing problem for media departments is that agencies continue to under-reward media people financially. He says it’s not a new problem but it’s one that’s gotten worse and is the primary cause for the turnover in the business.

For example, Stanger says college graduates looking to join an ad agency have two options: an entry-level account executive job earning $35,000 to $40,000 a year or an entry-level media job for about $22,000 a year. Many that do choose media don’t stay and he says will move either to the account side or over to a media supplier where they can more than triple their salary as a rep.

Stanger doesn’t believe anything is going to change in media departments until clients insist on more senior people on their business to force agencies to put more money in the media product. As long as creative is the ‘be all and end all,’ Stanger believes that’s where agencies are going to continue to focus.

‘We have this bizarre scenario where we reward people in account services with greater financial remuneration than media people who have more responsibility than an account person – they’re actually out there spending the client’s money,’ he says.

‘I’ve never understood why clients don’t demand more senior media people on their business. With a $20-million advertising budget, $15 million of it is probably being spent on media – and chances are good that’s it’s being handled by somebody with less than five years’ experience because all the focus is on the creative shoot.’

‘I find that staggering when you think that a media person really is an investment broker. My job is to take whatever amount of money [the budget] is and invest it wisely. And you only do that with experience and tools.’