Executives in marketing never tire of repeating that they work in a people business and that the assets leave the building at the end of every working day.
For all that, however, the marketing industry’s reputation for training and developing its important assets is patchy. To be fair, advertising and promotions are busy, pressurised industries and, much like public relations, training can often be pushed to the background to make way for the daily priorities of getting the job done.
But this will have to change, not least because employees are beginning to view training and development as an integral part of their employment package – much like paid leave and a car.
Jeremy Bohn, director of recruitment specialists Management Personnel, says that increasingly job candidates are enquiring about training prospects “and more often than not, the answer they get is ‘on-the-job training’.
“We recruit candidates for direct marketing, design, sales promotion and advertising positions and see very few account managers who have received formal training. In smaller agencies, account handlers tend to rely on colleagues for on-the-spot training,” says Bohn.
Creative staff, on the other hand, seem to have more training opportunities. Bohn says people heading for creative positions are frequently offered QuarkXPress or PhotoShop training.
“People who come to us looking for jobs are increasingly asking about training prospects – in fact many people are asking about training before they ask about holidays and hours. We notice that those agencies which have good training programmes are much easier for us to sell jobs into,” says Bohn.
Trade bodies such as the Institute of Sales Promotion (ISP) and the Institute of Direct Marketing (IDM) have extensive training programmes to which most agencies send their staff.
There are those, however, who would like the advertising industry to broaden its training scope.
Dr Wendy Lomax is course director for the MA in Marketing at the Kingston Business School; she is also a former advertising agency client.
“We never see any agency people on the MBA course. On the MA in marketing we see mainly people from market research agencies. Agencies seem to want to hire people with MAs in marketing, but they don’t seem to be prepared to send their existing staff on the course,” she says.
She adds: “I’ve worked on the client side for ten years and my experience is that agencies focus on advertising to the exclusion of the rest of the marketing mix. I found that very frustrating as a client.
“If a brand does well, it’s because of the advertising; if it does badly, it’s because of something else. People in advertising have a distorted view of the role of advertising in marketing. Unless you have a marketing qualification, you don’t get that broader perspective. The reality is you achieve far greater benefits for your brand if you get your distribution right, than if you get your advertising right.
“When I was a client, this was always my criticism of agencies. The account planners used to call themselves the brand champions – which made me wonder what they thought I was doing all day.”
The Media Business Course is a three-day residential programme aimed at immersing students in the world of media. But, according to Martin Bowley, chief executive of Carlton Media Sales and chairman of the Media Business Course, only about 30 per cent of students come from the world of advertising. Sixty per cent are made up of media owners.
Bowley says: “We would love to see more people from advertising agencies. Media owners spend a lot on training their employees because they can’t afford to have badly trained sales staff. But the media world is changing fast and ad agencies may lose out by not sending their people on a media training course. It’s very easy for the whole media scene to pass you by if you don’t understand it properly.”
Tim O’Kennedy, partner at advertising agency Circus, sympathises with these views – probably because he also used to be a client. He says: “It’s nonsense to say that everyone should stop to make room for the advertising debate.”
But he adds: “There are shorter, more practical routes to awareness than an MA in marketing. Marketing is not magic; it has its complexities but it is basically commonsense.”
In terms of developing its staff, Circus has moved away from convention. The agency believes the basics should include profit sharing, private health insurance, free membership to a health club (O’Kennedy used to work for Nike) and free annual health screens.
There is also an individual annual allowance for “personal growth”. This means people can apply to the fund to do something which they feel passionately about. “A number of us have personal passions outside work which make us better at our jobs. We try to push those along,” says O’Kennedy.
Circus associate Rob Cooke, for example, has just used his allowance to compete at the World Street Luge Championships in Austria. This benefit is apart from more conventional training programmes which staff are encouraged to participate in.
The fact that Circus has a staff of 20 may enable such forward thinking staff development but O’Kennedy adds: “There is a financial impact, yet it is not as profound as you would think. No one gets a car or a car allowance, and we are based in a part of London which is not wall-to-wall Gucci or Prada. Generally speaking, we don’t have lavish needs so we can divert our funds into our people.”
Those agencies which have decided to take training and development seriously have committed themselves to doing it properly.
Crown Business Communications has a staff of just under 100 and a year ago took the unusual step of hiring a human resources director with an established department, whose sole job is to develop training strategies for the agency.
Crown personnel manager Saffron Milne says her role is not the usual mix of administrative back-up, counting staff holidays and brushing up on maternity benefits.
Milne adds: “Human resources has for a number of years been a support function and very administration oriented. But people are realising that there is a huge knowledge base in human resources which can contribute to the business strategy of the company. Training must be linked to business growth. The philosophy of the HR department should be centred on what the client wants.”
Milne’s responsibilities include recruitment, developing internal training programmes and sourcing external training. The budget set aside for training at Crown this year is £150,000 – more than £1,500 per person.
Training of any value will inevitably cost money. Adam Wylie, client services director at Tequila Payne Stracey, believes that ten per cent of the agency’s annual net profit should go towards training. He says that Tequila Payne Stracey will be setting up a dedicated human resources department soon rather than outsourcing its training requirements.
“If you engender a culture of external HR support you reach a scenario where senior management abdicates responsibility for its people. You can abdicate responsibility for IT and outsource other functions that don’t impact directly on the client – but you can’t do that with your people,” says Wylie.
Tequila Payne Stracey has a clearly defined training programme which is developed at the beginning of each year to ensure that staff know in advance when their time will be taken up by training. It includes a mixture of senior management conducting the training as well as external trainers.
Good training and careful career development is an effective means of holding onto staff in sectors where staff turnover is high. In sales promotion, for example, the average length of service is estimated at 22 months, with a growing trend towards freelance employment.
Iain Sanderson, managing director of ad agency Dynamo and ISP chairman of education, says his agency has attempted to lengthen the average duration of stay, as well as plug the freelance gap. Employees who have been with the company for three years can take three months off to travel. Dynamo pays a third of their salary while they are away – to cover the mortgage – and if they stay with the company for a further six months after they have returned, they receive a bonus payment.
Referring to the MBA issue, Sanderson says these degrees are done “for one reason only – to further people’s career prospects in multinational organisations such as IBM”.
He concedes: “Qualifications like these are not recognised as much in advertising but they should be.”
Perhaps it is one of the unique characteristics of advertising and promotions that is partly to blame for the lack of a formal training masterplan that governs the industry.
Sanderson says: “Our industry is characterised by agency start-ups which concentrate on surviving and then growing. The qualities needed for a start-up are nerve, bravado and the ability to put your house on the line.” One doesn’t have to look far to find very successful, very rich people who made it by doing just that.