Talent War - Advertising’s most in demand jobs and how the industry tries to fill them

Ashley Regan
By Ashley Regan | 5 July 2022
Source: Magnet Me via Unsplash

Where have all the account managers gone?

The advertising industry is scrambling, looking for talent to meet demand as the budgets flow from brands seeking customers.

And the churn rate has lifted as poaching across agencies becomes the norm rather than the exception. 

The start of 2022 saw a historic high of 4,412 people employed in Australian media agencies. At the same time, the job vacancy rate hit 12%, double the normal level of 6%. 

“This is positive news for our industry, in that media agencies continue to grow strongly,” Media Federation of Australia CEO Sophie Madden said.

“However, the pressing challenge remains one of an acute talent shortage, which is something all other industries are also facing, here and overseas.

“Everyone assumes that the most in-demand roles are in digital, but in fact, the areas experiencing the biggest vacancy rates are in implementation and traditional media roles. For example, the biggest challenge facing our member agencies is finding TV buyers. 

“Over the past five years, the number of roles in Analytics has seen the steepest increase, while 54% of vacant roles are manager and executive level with 2-5 years experience.”

Since March the advertising, arts and media industry section on SEEK has seen three consecutive months of growth. The number of roles rose 8.4% from April to May and is up 40.5% compared to May last year.

The last and only other time in SEEK history that job ads for the industry were this high was in June 2016. 

Currently the top three in-demand jobs on SEEK:

  1. Journalism & writing, which rose 11% month on month (m/m), 75% year on year (y/y)

  2. Programming & production, up 1% m/m, 92% y/y

  3. Agency account management, up 16%m/m, 29% y/y

Jimmy Sutton, marketing talent agent at Aquent Australia, said: “As marketing teams focus on their customer journey and look to optimise their CX, this has caused a premium on talent with experience in any of the large marketing automation platforms and digital analytics, especially experience with the Adobe Experience Cloud. 

“Finding talent with these skills and the communication skills to translate that data into insights or bring stakeholders along on the journey is the sweet spot.

“Under pressure from their clients, agencies are working with tight budgets and it seems every man and his dog needs an account manager since they don’t have a bench of talent to utilise.”

Overall, the scarcity of midweight marketing talent within both permanent and temporary roles is a more pressing struggle across all disciples and agencies, because candidates at this level are inundated to take more senior positions since they currently have the most experience in the shallow job pool.

Simon Hadfield, managing partner at DMCG Global: “It continues to be the junior to mid-level roles that are difficult to source, and I don’t feel it has dramatically improved in the last 18 months. 

“More specialist roles around CX, CRM etc continue to be tough to find but that’s always been the case.

“People keep saying it must be great right now being a recruiter; honestly, I’d much prefer business as usual. 

“The massive churn rate currently affecting our industry isn’t good for anyone and fuels a false economy of talent and wage inflation. 

“Working as a trusted partner with an agency or candidate to find them the next role in a controlled and considered manner is far more rewarding for all.”

The latest results from the Independent Media Agencies of Australia (IMAA) Pulse Survey found that 85% of independent media agencies will grow staff by up to 25% or more; however, more than half say that the quality and depth of the talent pool is still poor.

IMAA CEO Sam Buchanan said: “Our regular Pulse Surveys consistently show our members looking to grow in the year ahead – the jobs are there but the talent pool is not, and this continues to be a source of frustration as their businesses grow.”

While many believe that the seemingly never-ending talent shortage is attributable to the lack of overseas workers, other factors are at play.

Melanie Gillam, principal consultant at NewyTechPeople & RemoteTechPeople, told AdNews: “Companies have offered premature promotions to retain talent, raised salaries to attract talent, and been too slow to adjust the salaries of existing employees, all contributing to a frenzy of talent movement, particularly at the mid-senior levels.  

“Right now skills are definitely more scarce than roles but that opens opportunities for skill development. 

“For instance, digital designers who have developed UI skills and want to move into UX are more likely to find employers willing to hire complementary skill sets and upskill.”

As the Brits return, will things get better?

Robert Stone, chief people officer at Wunderman Thompson (WT), told AdNews: “Obviously, no one could have seen this talent shortage coming; however, I do think as an industry we are all partly to blame. 

“Historically, I think that we have all taken the easier approach to import top talent rather than investing and developing from grassroots. 

“International talent will certainly help solve part of the problem, however it is not the silver bullet. We cannot revert to relying on this talent pool to solve our local needs. 

“Over the past couple of months, we have started to see an increase in international talent hitting our shores and many agencies are already focusing on divesting their talent strategies.

“At WT Australia, we have found that our competitive advantage is leveraging our global network and having open conversations with our people regarding mobility to support their career aspirations. 

“The issue which we are facing, however, is major delays in visa processing times.

“The lack of international talent pool which agencies are able to source from is resulting in a negative net movement in talent being exported and imported.

“The strict Australian COVID-19 response has undoubtedly impacted Australia’s once high desirability to work, resulting in less people being attracted to Down Under.

“People are now in the midst of enjoying the newfound freedoms of the world reopening - as we navigate through our winter, unsurprisingly, we are seeing our talent leaving to chase the sun.”

However there are many international programs available to Australian marketing professionals giving them the opportunity to benefit from a cultural, ideas and skills exchange, forging global links and professional friendships. 

Agencies can take advantage of the MFA’s visa pathway for staff transfers with overseas talent in partnership with the federal government.

The Independent Media Agencies Australia also offers its own international inter-agency staff transfer program for members, which allows staff the same opportunities as their multinational agency counterparts to travel and work overseas. 

Buchanan at IMAA said: “With the extraordinary talent shortage and challenge of attracting and retaining staff, IMAA members now have access to work in agencies in international markets - a great reward to offer existing employees and a huge incentive to offer to potential new employees.”

Gillam at NewyTechPeople & RemoteTechPeople said: “The Australian borders have reopened to working holiday makers but we haven’t yet seen the arrival influx we all hoped for. 

“Pre-pandemic, we would see a noticeable increase in visitors as we approach the warmer months, but the rising costs of travel, accommodation, and living in Australia somewhat impede the appeal of our beach lifestyle. 

“While we’re waiting for them to return we need to focus on developing home-grown talent to improve hiring outcomes.”

Are you looking rurally?

Rocky Ranallo, creative tutor at Western Sydney Ad School, told AdNews he believes “agencies are fishing in the same pond in the Eastern and Northern suburbs of Sydney,” and encourages hiring managers to look outside of metro areas to cultivate more diverse forms of talent.

“I can't speak for the rest of Australia, but I know the problem also exists in Melbourne, where there has been zero promotion for advertising as a career for would-be creatives in the western suburbs. From our experience, it's not even on their radar as a career choice.”

Justin Ladmore, managing director of Enigma Media, said that focusing on recruiting regional talent from Newcastle and the Hunter Region to counter what’s going on in metro areas is a key focus for the independent agency’s success.

Launched a few months ago, the Enigma Media Academy takes 13 media coordinators through an intense 12-month training program at its Newcastle head office.

“Ultimately what we want to build in Newcastle is a community and pipeline so that job seekers don't have to move to Sydney,” said Amy Dascanio, general manager at Enigma Media.

In-house training 

“We knew this talent crisis was going to go on for a bit, which led us to bite the bullet and instead of trying to fight it or pay ridiculous salary prices, we developed our Academy to ensure we're training people up,” said Ladmore.

“Then in 12 months, we've got these amazing media executives - they’re golden nuggets of talent we would never find otherwise in the market we're in.”

Enigma encourages other agencies looking to also start their own in-house training programs to lean on the Independent Media Agencies Australia (IMAA) for support.

IMAA members have numerous learning resources available regardless of the staff experience and requirements, benefiting from ongoing training including weekly educational webinars and education courses offered from its 40 media partners and industry associations.

Looking ahead, the IMAA is creating an eight-module Media Training Academy for agency staff members with 0-5 years of experience, to collectively raise the capability of agency juniors while providing members added value through upskilling and development.

Similarly, the Media Federation of Australia provides agencies with an abundance of eLearning programs to be used in-house, such as the MFA Digital Foundations and MFA Television Foundations courses.

The newly introduced NGEN Bootcamps also aims to provide valuable skills to media executives with less than five years' experience. 

Zoe Goodhardt, client lead at TAG Direct, told AdNews: “We're seeing a shortage of candidates in the performance side of our business - I think this is due to there not being a specific course at University in paid advertising. 

“Most people who land in this role are self taught, or companies have invested in their learning from a graduate level. 

“We're now investing not only in our robust intern program, but also in our graduate program with specific courses being undertaken should the candidate want to upskill in that department.”

Shift recruitment focus to outside the industry?

Stone said: “As an industry, we have struggled to hire from out of the industry and this is now seeing us fall behind clients and consultancies that have divested their talent attraction strategies for a number of years.

“We need to shift focus and hire from outside of the industry - this is not purely to solve the talent shortage, but also to better our creative output. 

“To address this at Wunderman Thompson in partnership with WPP, we are investing in our internal talent with the new initiative The Breakthrough, a unique 12-month cadetship program designed to give emerging talent the opportunity to kick start their career in the WPP network.”

The 12-month paid program provides an immersive experience within four creative and production agencies: whiteGREY, Wunderman Thompson, VMLY&R and Hogarth.

Participants will benefit from spending time in departments including client service, strategy, digital and production, getting hands-on experience with real client briefs, gaining professional industry skills, knowledge, and career learnings while in the role. 

On completion, participants have the opportunity to be considered for permanent roles within the network.

“As much as this discussion is centred on the talent shortage, as an agency, you will not have a talent shortage if you are investing in and developing your existing talent,” Robert Stone said.

“Perhaps, retention is the best strategy after all.”

Similarly, the MFA provides resources to members to help with recruitment and retention.

Madden at the MFA: “Our long-standing MFA Tertiary program within Australian universities ensures our industry is top of mind among university graduates through a program of guest lectures, student visits to agencies, internship opportunities and an education conference for lecturers.

“Our tertiary focus is coupled with new acceleration programs, which we are currently working on so that we can bring in experienced talent from other industries.”

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