PHD’s Susana Tsui answers: does the marketing industry have a marketing problem?

Susana Tsui, CEO of PHD in Asia Pacific

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?

PHD Asia Pacific CEO Susana Tsui is the first to answer The Drum’s weekly Q&A, in which industry leaders, hot 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?

Young people have an enormous range of employment options these days, especially those with keen interest in technology and ecommerce. In many ways, marketing has become less sexy due to the long hours and financial pressures of today’s world. In advertising, brands and agencies that have a fundamental belief around the intersection of technology and creativity are changing the rules of the game.

I am a strong believer in culture. For many of the young, the number one most important career decision they can make is the culture they choose to grow in. Corporate culture has long been linked to company performance. Josh Bersin, principal and founder of Bersin by Deloitte and Forbes contributor, said in a recent article that companies lacking an attractive culture are struggling with a retention crisis, while companies that focus on culture - such as Google, NetFlix, Zappos, Facebook are becoming icons for job searchers.

In such a scenario, it is imperative to know what you stand for as an organisation and articulate the same. It is more about creating awareness about your culture and influencing decisions rather than anything else.

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

Well, it’s a fact that turnover in advertising is higher than related industries, partly due to the fact that the industry is growing at an exponential rate that requires changing skill sets. The battle for talent has always been great concern for agencies as the industry runs on talent. However, talent development – how we nurture, engage and retain– is an issue that needs more attention and investment. It also needs to be more closely aligned with organisational readiness, especially when it comes to digital.

Compensation, the perception that there is a lesser opportunity for advancement and the lure of being a part of the new world (such as the ad-tech companies) are some of the challenges for retaining talent.

As an industry, we need to evolve our thinking around talent retention and development with fresh thinking and create a culture of continuous learning to keep our talent.

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

While there are many issues, a few key issues are at the forefront.

  • The pace of change in the industry is such that marketing and advertising roles have transformed. With the rise of digital and a growing demand for data-driven marketing across new platforms, the traditional roles (media buyer, planner) have been augmented with the creation of new roles like data scientist, creative technologists etc.
  • The new skillsets that are necessary for success are not widely available within the industry, hence the talent pool must be expanded. Advertising is still not perceived as a tech-savvy industry to talent that are new to the industry (eg. fresh grads), so we often fail to attract the people with the right skillsets, which adds to the shortage.
  • The existing talent pool is governed by availability. People take whatever that comes their way in terms of career choices for greater benefits, which is why attrition rates are high.

One of the ways to work around the talent shortage is to get innovative when it comes to recruiting and in line with our mantra of finding a better way, we have done just that.

Our values enhance our DNA of being a challenger brand and helps us to recruit the people who fit the PHD brand. To add a tangible methodology to this approach, we have been working on an initiative to recruit by challenger types to ensure we are always consistent in staying true to our DNA of being a challenger brand. We took the different ways ‘PHDers’ go about ‘Finding a Better Way’ through challenger behaviours and grouped them into the 10 most common approaches. We then aligned them across the spectrum of PHD’s core values (openness, curiosity, courage) to show how each challenger type’s strengths drive PHD forward. The core part of this is the quiz hosted on the careers section of the PHD APAC website.

Do you think the marketing industry has a marketing problem?

Ironically, yes. We're marketers. We know how to promote our clients and their brands. But when it comes to self-promotion, we are hesitant. Over the last two decades, our industry focused on the negativity of change, rather than the opportunities arising from transformation. The doom and gloom of how technology and digital has taken over creativity is mind-numbingly boring and unhealthy. We should focus on how technology and data enhance and fuel our creativity to boost our work to an unimaginable level. We should celebrate good work more often.

What can and should be done about it?

As an industry, we need to be smarter at marketing ourselves. We need to stay positive, support one another and embrace the future through a lot more effort in self learning and yes, even if it means we need to have an insightful point of view on artificial intelligence. The future is now. We can fight it or we can shape it. It’s up to us.

To see what industry leaders from VML, Dataxu and Amnet thought, visit the marketing problem hub.

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