Art & Commerce: Teach Your Children

Larry Chiagouris is director of the Chicago-based American Marketing Association’s Institute for Marketing Communications and Strategy.
The best way to entice young talent?
Throw them into the boiling cauldron
Advertising agencies were once a magnet for attracting the best college graduates. What’s more, these recruits would come from the best schools. In recent years, however, agencies have been unable to hold onto this talent so critical to their future.
Why is this?
The problem began in the 1980s. Agencies were feeling pressure on profitability as clients called for lower costs. At the same time, media inflation, the engine for agency revenue growth, was slowing down.
Many agencies chose to cut operating costs, and a major casualty was in-house training. Today, few agencies sponsor development programs, except for some large multinationals. The effect on the ability of agencies to retain the best talent has been chilling. Bright young people are moving on to other communications specialties, client-side assignments or Web startups. There, they expect to get the specialized skills to bolster their rƒsumƒs, leading to greater financial rewards.
How can agencies fight back? Through extensive consultation with industry leaders, we have learned there is substantial agreement about what’s required. Surprisingly, technical skills are believed to be well served through existing industry programs. Strategic planning skills, which have a major impact on the direction, development and evaluation of advertising programs and corresponding business results, are dramatically needed.
The most practical approach to developing these all-important capabilities is to expose talent to a curriculum that focuses specifically on the primary challenge: How to help clients leverage their unique strengths and competencies to capitalize on market opportunities. Key components include instruction in developing a thorough strategic planning process, focused brand positioning and seamless integration of marketing communications disciplines.
The rise of information technology and shift to an interactive marketplace must also be part of learning about communications strategy. Also important are scientific methods for establishing and allocating marketing communications budgets and an evaluation approach that considers the multiple effects of marketing communications.
With the speed of technology, most organizations will not be able to compete on the traditional bases of product differentiation, pricing or distribution superiority. In the 21st century, success will rely on marketing communications and branding to forge relationships with customers and prospects.
Today’s ambitious, young communications talent wants to learn about brand equity and how it can be managed. This extends to the positioning process and development of creative strategy briefs. In this brave new marketplace, agencies must build their internal capabilities to help companies gain an intimate knowledge of the customer, as the foundation for effective marketing communications dialogues.
By developing in-house brand-strategy expertise and measuring marketing communications results, agencies can introduce new avenues to growth and profit. As these efforts demonstrate significant value to the client’s business, agencies will achieve better retention of their clients as well as their best and brightest employees.
Brant Wansley is director of client services at BrandMarketing Services in Charlotte, N.C.