Will staff churn at media agencies drop this year? Experts at loggerheads

By By David Blight | 7 August 2012

With the Media Federation of Australia's (MFA) dreaded staff churn figures for media agencies due to be compiled next month, industry experts are split on whether the industry average will drop from the incredibly high 37% figure of previous years.

The MFA figures, compiled every September, are not made publicly available, but sat at 37% in 2010, while dropping slightly in 2011, according to sources. One source said the figure sat at 36.4% in 2011.

With September just weeks away, the industry has turned its attention back to staff churn or turnover at media agencies. In previous years, industry pundits have spoken out against the high figure, arguing that such a high number is a negative reflection on the industry.

A number of industry experts have suggested we should see the figures start to drop, as more and more agencies implement stronger 'people and culture' initiatives, and as staff bunker down as a result of problems in the wider economy.

MFA director of education and development Linda Wong told AdNews: “I used to think this affected the media industry in a big way, but now I think it is something that impacts all industries. It's a generational thing. From the conversations I'm having, it sounds like things are settling, people are happier to stay at their agencies.

“This is largely because people and culture strategies are better at agencies. Also, there are initiatives like NGen, which we set up to focus on this issue.”

UM chief executive Mat Baxter would not comment specifically on the upcoming figures, but did say: “In the last 12 to 18 months there has been a big increase in focus on people and culture within lots of agencies. That is occurring industry wide. I'm not sure if this will benefit the next set of results or if the results will be seen further along in the future.

“The wider economic uncertainty is something to consider as well. When times are tougher, people bunker down and stay in the jobs they are in. If markets take a turn for the worse, there is usually a downward trend in the movement of staff.”

Meanwhile, Brenton Moore, managing directors of recruitment firm MAARS, said: “"There is a distinct lack of confidence in the market at the moment and we're seeing many prospective candidates sitting tight for the time being. I don’t expect this to change until we see a change in Federal Government."

Meanwhile, ZenithOptimedia chief executive Ian Perrin argued churn will come down in the long term. “It will definitely come down in the long term, because agencies are now taking training, culture and development so much more seriously. But in the short term, there is still a shortage of talent.”

Despite many industry experts arguing there will be a positive decline in the MFA's staff churn figures for media agencies, other are not quite as optimistic.

MediaCom's national head of people and culture Efi Richter told AdNews: “I don't expect the figure will change much. It only dropped a small amount last year, and I don't think too much has changed since then. Times might be tougher, but there is still a 7% vacancy rate in our industry. There are still roles; companies are still looking for talent.

“Lots of agencies are doing a lot in the people and culture space, but not all agencies, and if everyone isn't getting involved then I'm not sure there will be a major impact on the industry's churn figures.

“If the figure does go down, it will be very marginal.”

Meanwhile, Philip Goldstein, director of recruitment firm MacPeople, said: “Churn will be consistent in the next set of figures. I'm not sure that much has really changed since last year, so I can't see the figure being very different. The economy has contracted a bit, but in the media sector, not much has changed.”

The MFA will compile its new churn figures at the end of September.

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