HR’s Catch 22: ‘A lot more doing and a lot less learning’

Emerging channels. Diverse disciplines. Complicated programs.The roles of agencies and marketers are more challenging than ever, and a shortage of skilled professionals is looming. And as everyone tries to do more with less, training has fallen off the map. Is enough being done to attract, educate and hang on to talent? Strategy pulled together a roundtable of experts, moderated by executive editor Mary Maddever, to find out.

Emerging channels. Diverse disciplines. Complicated programs.The roles of agencies and marketers are more challenging than ever, and a shortage of skilled professionals is looming. And as everyone tries to do more with less, training has fallen off the map. Is enough being done to attract, educate and hang on to talent? Strategy pulled together a roundtable of experts, moderated by executive editor Mary Maddever, to find out.

It’s unanimous: there’s a scary lack of training in marketing. To nip it in the bud, a group of industry members founded the Marketing Communications Education Trust in 2005 to raise funds for Canada’s first chair in brand communication, as well as a Bachelor of Business Administration degree with a concentration in brand communications, at Waterloo’s Wilfrid Laurier University. MCET board member and roundtable panelist Brett Marchand says the plan has raised more than 70% of its $5-million goal. ‘The idea was to design a specific undergraduate program so students could be prepared for a marketing communication or agency career after their fourth year,’ he says. ‘Because there was really no program dedicated to those career paths.’

Marchand, who is also the Institute of Communication Agencies (ICA) executive committee chair, is excited about the master’s program the organization is working on. The plan is to pilot it in fall 2008, although no post-secondary institution has been chosen yet.

‘The idea is to take people who have experience in the industry and are looking at senior management roles, and give them the training that is needed at that level,’ he says. ‘How do you train people to be in leadership roles across all the communications disciplines? How do you train somebody to actually manage an organization? The goal is to offer that kind of program.’

As well, the Toronto-based ICA offers members courses in print production, portfolio development, broadcast commercial production and the fundamentals of advertising, plus the Communications and Advertising Accredited Professional (CAAP) essential skills development program. And the Association of Canadian Advertisers offers a master’s certificate in marketing communications management in cooperation with York University, plus strategic and branding courses in Toronto and Vancouver.

Still, there’s clearly a need for more training to address current gaps, and some agencies are providing their own programs. The Cundari Group, for instance, has online tutorials for everything from chairing a meeting to making an effective presentation. There’s also a mentoring program in which junior employees handle RFPs (under a certain budget threshold), giving them valuable experience and allowing managers to identify rising stars. Cossette provides no fewer than 35 courses on advertising and marketing skills, taught primarily by senior managers, in its Cossette Campus program. Cossette also fosters integrated thinking via the Sandbox, which puts creative people through various disciplines for three months, after which about half are hired and the other half, Marchand says, are plucked by other firms.

And with the approaching boomer exodus, there’s also a focus on more senior training. To help meet that need, the ICA is working with training partners such as veteran agency execs Joan McArthur and Leslie Ehm of 27 Marbles Training, which facilitates workshops on writing, pitching and leadership skills for creative professionals.
Here’s our HR Roundtable Panelists:

Rob Assimakopoulos recently joined the Canadian Football League as VP marketing. Previously, he was VP marketing at Molson Canada and head of marketing strategy and innovation at Procter & Gamble Canada.

Brett Channer has worked in advertising for 20 years, as an account exec, planner and copywriter at such agencies as JWT, ChiatDay and Saatchi & Saatchi, where he is currently chairman and EVP/CD.

Aldo Cundari is chairman and CEO of the Cundari Group, which he founded more than 20 years ago. He is also board chair of the National Advertising Benevolent Society.

Janet Hardy consults for the Chrysalis Group, teaches at the U of T’s Centre for Industrial Relations and Human Resources and specializes in performance management and leadership coaching for New Paradigm Learning.

Glenda Hummel is SVP at Scotiabank, where she oversees efficiency and service-level strategies. She also sits on the bank’s donations committee, and is involved with St. Michael’s Hospital and Ernestine’s Women’s Shelter.

Brett Marchand began his career at Procter & Gamble, and worked at Campbell and Molson before moving to the agency side at Lowe Roche and now Cossette Communication-Marketing, where he is SVP/MD.

Joan McArthur is a partner at 27 Marbles Training, where she teaches courses for advertising and marketing professionals. She also teaches at OCAD, and has 20 years of experience at agencies including Ogilvy & Mather and McCann Erickson.

Ken Wong is associate professor of business and marketing strategy at Queen’s University’s School of Business. He has also taught at Carleton and Harvard, and is an inductee into the Canadian Marketing Hall of Legends.

Mary Maddever: What positions are hardest to fill?

Joan McArthur: One of the biggest is the interactive space. The agencies that have in-house interactive are growing 60% in a year, and they cannot keep up with the need. Nobody has time to step back and assess issues and goals.

Ken Wong: We’ve been seeing this on the marketing side with brand management. It’s harder to find competent young brand managers, because the best ones want to go into investment banking or consulting, and firms are offering them incredible inducements.

Aldo Cundari: Also, they’re very active in the school environment. We go to job fairs at universities, and find ourselves elbowing for room. We say up front, ‘We’re not paying what these guys can, but you’re going to learn a lot.’ But I don’t think we as an industry are active enough in bringing folks in. And the only way to do that is to go out into the universities.

Brett Marchand: When I started at P&G, I was a brand assistant on Coast deodorant soap, and I had a brand manager. Now, they’ve got a brand manager for all soap and cosmetics. Because the clients are thinner in marketing, we have to fill that void on the agency side. And we haven’t created integrated brand marketers, because we’ve hired people and trained them to be advertisers for 10 years. So we’re finding a lack of senior level people who can manage an entire brand. We’ve been hiring more and more clients who have 15 years’ experience. But it’s going to be a huge challenge five years from now.

Brett Channer: I just hired a CEO and it took me a year, and I had to hire my client. That’s a problem.

Wong: From a university perspective, I don’t think students recognize that there are those opportunities on the agency side.

Maddever: How would you assess the relevant skills level of the job candidates available now, and the ability of marketing departments to attract that talent?

Rob Assimakopoulos: At entry level there’s always great talent. They don’t come perfectly packaged, but they’re good and they come from multiple sources. I just wonder if our business schools are teaching students to be CEOs rather than project managers. I’ve had a lot of MBAs work for me, many of whom are learning how a CEO moves the chess pieces around. It’s OK, but what do you do when you’re managing a project and the shit hits the fan?

Wong: That’s always been a concern, that we were teaching people skills they won’t need for 10 years. The new reality is that project management is being taught, emotional intelligence is being taught. But students still have this stereotype of what’s theoretical and what’s real. They’ll write down ‘People are important,’ but they don’t really believe it until they get to the real world, and then they’re going, ‘I should have paid attention to project management, I should have learned how to work with people.’

Assimakopoulos: It’s encouraging to learn the curriculums are evolving, but I’ve seen a lot of horse trading as opposed to grooming.

Janet Hardy: We surveyed 6,800 Gen Ys, and there are some generational norms that are fabulous fits with your industry. They are flocking to consulting for similar reasons as they should be flocking to advertising.

You guys are in the business of innovation and creativity, and that is a generational norm. Part of that is your web presence, which is a huge issue. And if you can brand the industry as a place where people can exercise those creative talents, that it’s dynamic and high-speed, that there’s lots of change, that’s it’s a collaborative work environment, and that there’s an entertainment, fun aspect – those are four of the critical norms that any industry needs to appeal to them. The other norms are around freedom and work-life balance, so if one week has 80 hours, the next week can’t, they’re not going to buy that. There are norms you can play to, but you haven’t embraced them and figured out how to place your industry vis-a-vis consulting or banking.

Marchand: But numbers are not the issue. I mean, we get almost 60 applicants for every job. This is about trying to find the cream of the crop.

Hardy: But everybody’s trying to find the same cream of the crop, and if they’re not coming to your industry because other industries are top of mind…

Assimakopoulos: To effectively market an industry, I think it’s important to be sharp about how your philosophies intersect with theirs. I think it behooves us to be more articulate about what it is we do as marketers.

Wong: You’re right. The hardest question a student can ask is, what does a marketer do?

Channer: We call it seeding behaviour.

Wong: But here’s the classic problem the student faces. What exactly does a marketer do on Monday? Or Tuesday? What exactly is this job, and what am I supposed to be learning to do?

Maddever: So there are competition and skill set issues to overcome. Can you give me some examples of successful recruitment strategies?

Channer: The best one I’ve heard of is the one our New York office instilled, and they won Agency of the Year this year at Cannes. It was the worst office in the world three years ago, losing money and clients. And two leaders came in and created the ‘attraction culture.’ If you have talent at the top with the confidence to attract others, it gets rid of the need to recruit. At Saatchi Toronto we looked at them and learned. We had to pay big fees to get the right people at the top, but now the attraction culture is starting. You save money on fees, you have a selection of people to choose from and you attract people that fit the culture. But you really have to define your culture, because if you can’t, how do you sell it to a client?

Assimakopoulos: If there’s one thing I’d like to concentrate on, it’s the fit. That’s a bad word for some people, because they feel they should be objective. Well, in organizations you have to be like us and walk like us, and that’s subjective. The other thing is working on assessing someone’s potential. That comes down to asking great interview questions and drawing from experiences other than professional experiences. We hired a woman who told us about turning babysitting into a summer camp at 16. She had something special, other than what was on her resumé.

Marchand: We were spending hundreds of thousands on recruiting fees, which I didn’t want to do anymore. Gen Y is different from the generation I came from. They come in with a certain sense of entitlement, and Cossette went through a period where we thought we’d change them. We’ve come to the realization that you really have to manage this new generation. They don’t want to work in sweatshops, and let’s face it, agencies have been built on unpaid overtime. And that poses a recruitment challenge, because you have to address those concerns up front. So we lean heavily on referrals. We’re getting most of our people from paid referral programs, internal or external. And we’ve got four people in the past month through Facebook. It’s all about tribes now.

Cundari: We have a Facebook club of former employees, and I can send them all an email and ask them if they know anybody. We have a referral program much like that, with a set fee.

Channer: I’m not meeting people unless they’ve come through someone at the organization.

Maddever: What’s the farthest afield you’ve looked to fill a position?

Channer: We just hired someone from a pet store. We go into human assets rather than just the qualities on paper. She had a great story about something she created in university that became a business, and that got us excited.

Marchand: We’re starting to broaden the net. It used to be find someone from an ad agency or marketing. We weren’t in a position to change that until we put a training program in place. And we’ve had some success. We just got somebody from Vodaphone to run promotions. We’ve looked at people with journalistic skills, but we needed the training program to have that focus.

Maddever: Is there enough training going on out there?

Assimakopoulos: When I was at P&G 10 years ago, we had a lot of time to ruminate on strategies. Today, people are doing a lot more doing and a lot less learning. I spent five weeks with my brand manager revising one simple document on a store check, to organize my thoughts and come up with sound conclusions. That was a valuable piece of training; I don’t think junior marketers have that luxury today. Companies demand more ROI, faster, for more clients, and that means senior managers have to invest more of their time. We have to work harder and they have to work harder, we have to get more out of them and create capacity for them to learn. That’s a big challenge.

McArthur: That’s really why my partner and I started our company, to fill that need, because everyone is doing more. I had a student, a third-year intern who went into an agency, and on her second day on the job she was running a commercial shoot. The other thing is, there are more people leaving than coming in. At OCAD, enrollment is dropping.

Wong: The numbers at business schools are rising, but the numbers coming into marketing are going down.

Glenda Hummel: The other part is that senior managers don’t know how to do the training, and don’t know the value of that investment. And they’re rewarded for gaining the account, but not for the development of their staff.

Cundari: Part of the reason we have these faults is the consolidation of the industry. We allowed multinationals to come in, and to make our profit we strip out training. And we lose that ability to train middle-level staff. In my situation we can spend that money. In a multinational, you’ve got to meet your numbers. We’ve got to fight that battle with the parent companies so we can build back those training programs. And then the thought is, why am I going to train them when they’re going to be stolen in three years?

Assimakopoulos: That’s a mindset that creeps in every time somebody goes to invest in training. When I joined Molson there wasn’t rigorous training, but when I left they had a career apprenticeship program. But there were warning signs, like ‘We’re going to invest two years in this person and they’re going to leave.’ So there is that fear that I may not get the return on this investment. However, the alternative is that you’re not creating a talent pipeline. No risk, no reward. So we need to swallow that risk. Secondly, I think we need to match the needs of the individual with the needs of the company. Having the privilege of being part of three learning organizations, I know that we had a synergistic relationship.

Hummel: The other benefit of training in-house is the company culture that happens. Shut that training off and hire them off the street, they don’t have the same fit with the organization, so they leave sooner or they’re not as engaged. When you do it in-house, it’s part of the branding. And we’re seeing that now. You go to the street and buy it, it looks good on the CV and they’re out the door in five years.

Cundari: I think the way organizations measure ROI is incorrect, because training is part of the equation. We have implemented a balanced scorecard, and training is part of how we measure ourselves. If we removed that from the equation, our score would drop dramatically.

Maddever: I wanted to get a sense of the scope and impact of your individual training programs. What’s working?

McArthur: We have a leadership program aimed at advertising people, and a lot of creative people go into it because nobody is training them. One day they’re coming up with campaign ideas, and the next day they’re expected to do budgets and forecasting, setting goals and understanding objectives. And both OCAD and Humber are in the process of becoming universities, so creative people are getting less time learning advertising skills, because they’re having to take liberal arts courses to fulfill that agenda.

Assimakopoulos: My last boss called all the VPs together and gave us leadership training. A lot of it was about filtering messages, being strategic about choices, the soft side of training. It permeated the way we do business, and we became better leaders.

Marchand: We’ve made a major investment in developing the education program through the ICA, and that’s probably the most important thing we can do as an industry. I would almost gladly downsize our own program if we could have support for that.

We’re really working on the curriculum at Laurier. We’ve got to teach project management skills to people who want a communication degree. We’re revamping CAAP, because I’m not sure those skills are still useful. And there’s a master’s program at ICA being developed with a couple of postsecondary schools. It’s critical that the industry does that.

Maddever: But you felt the need to do something in-house at Cossette as well.

Marchand: Yeah. We have specific needs, like hiring people that don’t necessarily have marketing degrees. And Cossette is a complicated organization with nine divisions. For Cossette Campus, we have 35 courses taught by management, and we earmark what courses people should take in what years. It’s a fairly major investment, and now our clients are going through it. Then we have the Sandbox, which puts people through all the disciplines for three months – so they have to be copywriters or art directors or whatever in direct, in advertising, in interactive, in PR – and that has been pretty successful. A lot of our best campaigns come out of that program.

Maddever: You’re hoping the associations take on more of that, but it sounds like a great retention tool. Will you keep it?

Marchand: Absolutely. But I would rather there was a base industry level of training and we could augment that.

Assimakopoulos: Wouldn’t it be interesting for the industry to chip in for that training, for different representatives to design aspects of a curriculum, whether it be managing an agency’s business strategies, building great creatives or writing pitches? I think the industry tries to throw money at the problem, whether it’s buying a chair at Laurier or a training course. Perhaps it should play a more active, nurturing role and actually design and deliver the training.

Maddever: Through the associations?

Assimakopoulos: Yes, or a new one whose primary mandate is to develop marketing talent in Canada, teaching aspects useful to somebody prospecting for a job in advertising or brand management.

Cundari: BMW has schools called brand academies, and if you work on a brand, you have to go through the brand academy. I think it’s brilliant. There’s one for BMW, one for Rolls-Royce and one for Mini. On top of that, they have their Powerhouse, which is the top six agencies in the world that they invite for global brand watches. We’re now part of that, but it’s taken 12 years to get there. And if we don’t have the relationship with the client, or the right skill sets, we’re never going to get in there.

Maddever: Given the impact of losing skilled talent, is enough being done to retain people?

McArthur: Crispin Porter [+ Bogusky] in the U.S. has a handbook they give to employees, and the minute you open it you get the culture of the company. They assign every new employee a sensei, Japanese for teacher, which I think contributes to their retention level. Because the sensei doesn’t want to let down his students, and the student wouldn’t let down his sensei. It’s also a buffer between employee and management that can resolve problems that would be tough to go to a higher level with.

Wong: Microsoft used to have a website where they would calculate, based on your starting date, what your options were worth and what you were giving up if you migrated somewhere else. It doesn’t get more direct than that.

Channer: We have four founding principles that were designed for under-30s: democratic, transparent, collaborative and inspirational. Those four words are so powerful to a group under 30. They are less motivated by money. The other thing is flexibility. It’s one of the biggest hot buttons for that group.

Marchand: I disagree with the money comment. This generation is as focused on money as any other. They’re thinking about equity and long-term, but it’s a major issue. The reason we went public, it was a retention strategy for us – how to keep senior people by giving them a piece of the pie. It’s tough to give up that portion when you’re a small agency, or a multinational.

Cundari: It’s partly the industry’s fault, because the easy route is to pay more. And they can’t manage themselves out of the problem, so they chop one employee and spread his salary over a number of people. We have this policy where the employees know exactly where they stand and what the next steps are. Every review goes through our executive team, so you get the right value for each individual. And we quickly know if someone is going to stay with us, because we know where they want to go, and their weaknesses. That changed our retention strategy. We published that as part of our balanced scorecard. There are three levels, and at the lowest level you’re automatically on probation and you have three months to improve or you’re out. It sounds vicious, but I’m doing them a favour because they’re going to climb up.

Maddever: Is there enough succession planning going on?

Channer: I’ll tell you the cost if you don’t do it. Saatchi didn’t make sure we brought people in to replace the people moving on. That almost killed our company. So I can’t tell you how critical it is to your business success. The cost was enormous, but we made the investment and I’d say 60% of our staff are under 34 years old now. One of the other ways Saatchi went wrong is we didn’t invest in the people we had in order to understand where the business was going. That will never happen again.

Cundari: My concern is that we’ve got talent leaving us and nowhere for them to go. Do they become consultants, or exit the industry altogether and then there’s a huge vacuum? Is there a way to say, ‘These are the mentors that will help us transition’?

Channer: The problem is, we don’t have room in the payroll for that mentorship.

Assimakopoulos: The boomers are leaving, but we’ll survive. We’re going to lose a couple of seasons, but you can’t just focus on those two or three years when they left, and in some cases left scorched earth, didn’t teach anybody anything, looted the place of its money and are gone. Necessity breeds invention. People will either invent ways to survive or die off, and hopefully the former.