Ultimate Asset’s James Lyon answers: does the marketing industry have a marketing problem?

James Lyon takes on The Drum's Q&A on 'Does the marketing industry have a marketing problem?'

Attracting and retaining talent in an era of exponential change is a global challenge, but in a region as fragmented as Asia Pacific, it becomes even more interesting.

The opportunities do outweigh the challenges of course, so how can the industry make sure it’s future-ready from a people point of view?

Ultimate Asset Asia Pacific’s managing director James Lyon answers The Drum’s weekly Q&A, in which industry leaders, new talent and everyone in between, will cast their opinions on whether the marketing industry has, when talent is concerned, got its own marketing problem.

Do you think young people want to work in the marketing industry now?

The marketing industry as we knew it 5-10 years ago has changed and evolved, becoming more digital and tech focused. We still tend to see an encouraging volume of people wanting to break into the sector, but with a more specific brief around area they want to major in. They are also way better qualified to push into these niches, having a better head-start through more specific University courses and postgraduate options. This has given us a good bedrock of young talent in all areas from data and analytics, engineering and design, through to digital marketing and social media.

Interestingly in my last role ‘industry side’ 11 years ago, working for Emap Advertising (FHM, KissFM, Empire, Heat etc), across a business of over 1000 people, the most popular degree was Geography!

Are marketing businesses, or the marketing functions of businesses, retaining talent enough?

Those companies who have evolved high performing digital divisions, tech and strong capability in-house are certainly doing a good job of retaining staff, largely because they recognise the challenges within region. They tend to have solid career developments plans, regular staff appraisals, constant training, exciting off-sites, and salaries and benefits that are constantly benchmarked.

Some of the bigger traditional marketing businesses, agencies holding groups for example, often have constant battles against high levels of churn. If this is to change, certain processes need to be encouraged from the top. I know multiple c-levels leaders who have never had an appraisal or review, so I guess it’s not surprising this is often missing at a lower level and staff are left treading water and move around a lot.

What issues do you think are creating talent shortages? Where are the shortages?

Versus other continents there is still a significant shortage of major scale investment and homegrown Unicorn companies. The majority of VC money is dealt out to the tier one players (think GrabTaxi, etc), with seed capital spread widely across hundreds of other businesses. So we don’t have the volume of start-ups pushing through and growing the bottom layer of the market.

Additionally, there is a lack of homegrown development in data and analytics and engineering talent (at scale). This will be the backbone of the digital marketing and tech economy over the coming years and companies are currently having into import great numbers of staff from the US, China and India. Luckily the government is starting to remedy this, in January prime minister Lee Hsien Loong unveiled a S$19 billion plan to support Singapore's R&D efforts over the next five years. The Research Innovation Enterprise 2020 Plan (RIE2020) seeks to support and translate research into solutions that address national challenges, build up innovation and technology adoption in companies, and drive economic growth through value creation. According to the prime minister: "It will contribute significantly to the economy and creates opportunities and jobs, supports national initiatives like Smart Nation, SkillsFuture, studies which we are doing under the Committee for the Future Economy, and it helps our workers to thrive amidst technological changes and globalisation.”

Do you think the marketing industry has a marketing problem?

Not a problem as such, but it needs to break out of its shell somewhat. We’ll only be able to better market our industry if clients are challenged and pushed more – by internal teams and external agencies wanting to innovate.

It’s difficult to market the industry if clients are not being daring enough and making brave decisions. It’s easy to stick what’s perceived to have worked well over the last five years, but these traditional strategies are now stagnant. Again this comes back to attracting talent, we’ll only bring in the best talent to the marketing industry if it remains a sexy and desirable area.

What can and should be done about it?

Invest in great youth teams to drive talent up through our industry. These individuals need exposure and share of voice to dust off some of the cobwebs in a rather traditional environment.

Bluntly, the industry as a whole needs bit more positivity. Asia Pacific as region has its time now; digital is spooling up, we’re in the fastest growing advertising economy in the world, with a huge scale and opportunity – it’s time to embrace that and enjoy the privilege of being here now!

Read what PHD CEO Susana Tsui and other leaders had to say about whether she thinks the marketing industry has a marketing problem.

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Charlotte McEleny

Charlotte McEleny is The Drum's Asia Editor, charged with finding all the interesting industry news and insights from the Asia Pacific region. During her year in Asia, she's covered topics as wide ranging as industry overwork to artificial intelligence, and interviewed top CMOs such as Alibaba's Chris Tung, and world famous creatives such as Rankin.

Based in Singapore, she travels the region regularly, attending and presenting at many top events, such as Spikes, Ad Week Asia and Innovfest.

Prior to her role as Asia Editor, she spent 10 years working across the London marketing trade magazines, even picking up an award for Best Digital Team at the PPA Digital Awards during her spell as digital editor at Marketing.

All by Charlotte