CampaignAsia Interview

Recently CampaignAsia ran an article on Talent in the media and advertising agencies, which I was asked to contribute towards. Below is a copy of the interview I gave, an excerpt of which was used in the article. (The full online version of the article can be viewed here)

Do you have any statistics on the rate of churn/staff turnover amongst younger staff in media and/or advertising agencies in Asia Pacific?

We’ve seen turnover rates rise from around 20% to 30%+. In some agencies it has recently been as high as 40%. That means people are moving jobs on average every 2-3 years. We don’t have any data on specific demographics within those numbers, but the industries under discussion do have a high proportion of Gen Y employees.

What, in your opinion, is the cause of this churn? (Is it specific to that generation? The industry? The region?)

A lot of the attrition is borne out of an industry sector in continuous change through the growth of ‘digital’. Online media has exploded and large corporate companies are now catching up and starting to build their own, dedicated internal teams. This has increased demand on those with extensive digital experience – from online publishers, pure play eCommerce businesses, and of course agencies. As pioneers of providing talent solutions in this space in APAC we have seen this sometimes ‘painful’ transition cause huge amounts of “stress” on businesses but there other factors relevant to agencies that add to the problem, such as changing business models, global GFC finance tightening, and post GFC growth (current phase). APAC has higher attrition rates at the moment because even factoring the GFC, it consists of the key growth markets where Talent is in short supply.

What are agencies doing to try and curb this churn – is it working?

One thing agencies (and indeed Media companies) have always been very good at is creating a great work environment for their staff and this legacy still holds true. However, although this has worked in the past, it is a fast fading prop. To be successful in today’s ‘war for talent’ you need to have more substance than free soft drinks and a pool table.

First stop, look at your leadership and succession plans. The old adage that employees join companies and leave managers is very true…those businesses that have strong leadership tend to do the best when it comes to retaining staff. Strong leaders create a compelling vision, they inspire, they motivate rather than dictate, and they invest and develop their people. Agencies need to continuously invest in their leaders of today and tomorrow. All of this costs of course, whether internally applied or outsourced, but the longer term benefits will far outweigh this initial outlay.

Secondly look at the control you give to people over their own lives. With the convergence of business, work, and life in this digital world we need to address the current disconnects of this against the impediments of the still largely industrial age workplace model (see below for suggestions). If people are first inspired and second engaged through new models of work/ life freedom you will have a much better likelihood of success in curbing churn.

In your opinion what should agencies be doing to train and retain young talent?

Firstly, I think agencies should be doing more to build talent rather than buy it – and you heard it from a recruitment business! Look for aptitude, culture fit and drive. If they have the foundation skills, with strong development frameworks in place and training, chances are they’ll be successful no matter what they do in your business. Also, agencies and media companies at large need to work more closely with the education institutions to make sure the next pools are capable and aligned and attracted to the industry.

Once you’ve invested in talent, you obviously want to hold onto it! It is difficult though to provide endless opportunities for career development and training. That’s why it’s important for young talent to be working for a business that they believe in. They should be heavy contributors to creating the company vision, something that is meaningful to them. Young talent, well everyone really, wants to contribute and gets a lot of satisfaction from the success of businesses that they have played a meaningful part in helping.

The recruitment industry also operates an “agency” model so we have a good reference point, and the same applies for us. Something we have implemented at Xpand is ROWE (Results Only Work Environment). We are the first company in APAC to have done so and the benefits are amazing. Engagement of talent is crucial to keeping costs low and efficiencies high, and ultimately the long term profitability and survival of your business . People are just not buying into gimmicks anymore. Although at Xpand we have always had a great culture, the Wii and Breakout room etc, we knew to attract and retain the best we would need to make a positive and meaningful change to peoples work lives. So, we went radical, and we comprehensively handed control of our employees lives back to them through ROWE and they in turn repay us with their effort, loyalty, happiness and In the end, results. My advice would be to seriously look at how Talent is engaged at a “real” level and make sure you confront those truths so you can begin to provide a sustainable, happy, profitable environment.

If young talent is leaving the advertising and media industries, where are they going? Are we losing them to any other industries in particular? Or are they happy to have less ambition for a better quality of life?

There is the constant request to go from agency to client side, and the easiest transition is to the industry they have serviced so the volume is naturally higher in the bigger industries that use agencies most i.e. banking / pharmaceutical etc.

The other area they move into is eCommerce. There is no lack of ambition here as this area is faring well, however they might sacrifice on pay, especially at the mid – senior end. There is definitely a better ”perceived” quality of life in these companies. The reality obviously depends on the detail i.e. the actual agency they come from and the eCommerce company they go to.


About Rob Fanshawe

Currently MD, Asia for Xpand Group, living in Singapore with his wife and dog (golden retriever), his passion in life is simple, “people”. He loves everything to do with meeting and understanding them to helping them and businesses realise their potential through the resulting positive connections.

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