Defining the career path

As job-hunting graduates spill out of universities they are, once again, flocking to the marketing industry, which now has to make sure it keeps hold of them, says Scott Knox

Scott%20KnoxIs a career in marketing and advertising back in vogue? If the latest graduate intake is anything to go by, the answer would have to be “yes”. This will come as a relief to client marketers and agencies alike, both of which have suffered a severe shortage of talent in recent years. In fact, 2007 shows all the signs of being a golden year for graduate recruitment.

The trend has been highlighted by the Marketing Communication Consultants Association (MCCA), which has operated a graduate recruitment scheme for members since 2001. The attraction of marketing for 2007 graduates is not hard to fathom. The industry is healthy, vibrant and dynamic. Indeed, with online advertising the fastest-growing medium in history – according to the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) – and technologies such as mobile broadcasting and radio frequency identification (RFID) still in their infancy, it is difficult to imagine a more dynamic profession.

The recent problem of graduate recruitment has been surprising for a profession that once prided itself on being a magnet for some of the UK’s brightest and most creative young people. During the heady days of the late 1980s, Charlotte Street and Saatchi & Saatchi, the industry was the epitome of professional cool. What happened to produce such a shortfall in talent?Some commentators have laid the blame squarely on the Government, citing a higher education system that has failed the marketing industry. The growth in low-quality “communication degrees” allied to a university system that churns out individuals who lack soft skills such as team-working, cultural awareness, leadership and communication skills have all played their part.

This latter point, however, is not unique to marketing with the Association of Graduate Recruiters (ARG) stating last year: “Half of recruiters face difficulties in fulfilling recruitment objectives – with the largest factor being a lack of applicants with the right skills.” However, every profession has been affected by the education system so one has to dig a little deeper to understand the marketing industry’s previous graduate recruitment malaise.

The two main reasons, from the MCCA’s vantage point, were uncompetitive starting salaries and the lack of defined career paths. The median graduate salary for graduates was £18k in 2005 against a UK norm of £23k. Thankfully this is now returning to parity, something the latest MCCA Salary and Benefits survey confirmed, although a £21K account executive salary still lags someway behind investment banking at £35k. The second problem – a lack of a defined career – has also been partly rectified.

Now that talented graduates are once again returning to the industry, the MCCA is turning its focus to graduate retention. Until recently, the industry has been poor at reviewing graduate recruits, and that’s being generous. This situation has dramatically improved as marketers understand that they must offer clearly defined careers, structured training programmes and thorough appraisal systems on a continuing basis – helping eradicate the chronic shorttermism that once plagued our industry.

Two MCCA member agencies, Gyro and The Marketing Store, can be singled out as outstanding performers in graduate retention. On closer inspection, both these agencies focused on one critical factor which ranked in importance above career pathways and salary levels. This factor was “trust and responsibility”, which, in essence, means involving graduates in important agency work from the very beginning. As one client services director remarked, “our graduates come to us for a stimulating and challenging career not just a brief assignment as the office junior.”

As surveys have consistently shown, by providing a stimulating work environment while simultaneously giving an individual the opportunity to add value to that environment, employee retention noticeably improved.

As we move towards the end of the first decade of the 2000s, it is encouraging to see the industry is learning its lessons and is once again becoming a destination profession. Agencies and clients must build on this and ensure that graduate recruitment and retention programmes are given the importance they deserve. After all, weren’t many of today’s marketing directors and agency chief executives once graduates?

Scott Knox is managing director of the Marketing Communication Consultants Association 

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