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How the marketing industry is changing to protect its greatest asset – the people

Jo Arden is head of strategy at 23red and a passionate advocate of the good that marketing can do, working on social purpose and behaviour change projects for the past 10 years.

Over 2016 we seem to have done some soul-searching about what it means to be a marketer.

We’re all guilty of indulging in nostalgia for the industry we once were. I’m not talking particularly about skills and expertise, but the way we are as people, how our business works, or doesn’t work for that matter. It’s easy to point to the good old days. But whilst there’s lots to cherish from our rich heritage, there are many more ways in which being a marketer today is better and we should be proud of how far we’ve come.

Here we look back at five major ways businesses have changed how they work to better protect our industry’s greatest asset – the people.

Shaking up recruitment

If we’re serious about delivering diversity in the workforce, then this is where we start. And change is happening. Agencies including Grey and JWT are tackling unconscious bias with blind recruitment. CHI launched its inclusive Spark programme when it recognised that focusing only on graduates at entry level excludes a big chunk of potential talent. Ogilvy & Mather also has a new placement opportunity targeted at both school leavers and retirees.

FCB Inferno has partnered with The Girlhood to focus its traineeships on women from diverse backgrounds. Whilst McCann London recently launched its Skype Open Hour, offering anyone a 15 minute chat about getting into advertising.

It’s taken a while but business leaders have finally started to act on what David Ogilvy always understood: it pays to be imaginative and unorthodox in hiring

Embracing entrepreneurial spirits

Once a perk for those working in tech, we now acknowledge the value of a side project.

Agency and client-side marketers alike are a passionate bunch and it’s inevitable that we have an in-built itch to build and experiment. 101 has talked about its total support for such projects (and in work time too) and Google has long since been known for encouraging 20% of time to be spent on personal projects. It’s a great way to let creativity flourish, to build business skills and often to make a positive social impact too.

Families matter

The demands of this industry can be particularly burdensome for families. Nabs research found that 20% of parents felt that their employer wasn’t helping them find a balance. While this clearly needs to be addressed, we should find hope in the experience of the 1 in 3 parents that definitely feel supported.

Legislation has helped, but forward-thinking businesses are developing plans designed to accelerate our progress. Channel 4 gives coaching to pregnant employees to ensure a positive experience for life and career. Virgin is leading the way with maternity pay with 52 weeks at full pay for those that have been employed for four years or more – an investment that signals its desire to retain those with families. Our own work with the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s ‘Working Forward Campaign’ has seen businesses such as Barclays, The John Lewis Partnership and Royal Mail amongst others come together to bring about lasting cultural change.

Wellbeing matters

It isn’t just about parents. Everyone is at risk of workplace stress and the next generation of talent has different priorities: they aren’t willing to trade career progression for health.

The debate is moving away from work-life balance towards the ‘whole self’. We’re less likely to distinguish between work and private life and our industry has started to embrace that. Efforts such as McCann’s health and wellness programme ‘the workout’ should be held up as a beacon.

There are no quick fixes. And when you look at the stats reported by Nabs progress is slower than we might hope. But the fact wellness is now on the agenda across boardrooms is definite progress.

Making a difference

Purpose is the zeitgeist topic this year and MullenLowe’s Tom Knox is leading the charge from the IPA.

“It’s my strong belief that advertising can be a noble profession, and what we do is fundamentally of great value and good," he said.

The key change here is the options available to make a social impact. Previously, you might have been limited to volunteering hours or to fighting for time around work where you could try to ‘give back’. But with social purpose and brand so increasingly interlinked, our ability as marketers and agencies to positively affect society is increasing.

Excitingly, The Comms Lab has recently launched a six month leadership programme to equip the next generation of leaders with the ability to drive positive change. It’s adoption of these initiatives that will help us make even greater strides toward realising the IPA's vision.

So, we might have spent less time in the pub in 2016 than we did in 1961, but we’re collectively all the more vibrant for it.

Jo Arden is head of strategy at 23red

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