The future of talent

Neil StewartAs Maxus celebrates its fifth birthday, Neil Stewart looks forward five years and wonders what the impact of the younger generation will be on the media industry by 2018.

So five years ago, the world was coming to an end. The term global financial crisis was born. And the repercussions of financial instruments of mass destruction and low-doc easy mortgages for those who could never pay them back were being felt across the world. An interesting time to start a new agency network, some might say!

Around that time I was at Motorola – and as a result of the global slow down and some pretty bad technology decisions, the organization was going through some very tough times. The result for me was making 95 per cent of the marketing team across the region redundant. Including myself.

Since that date, over the past five years in my role in Maxus Asia Pacific, I am pleased to say I have had to hire a lot more people than I had to let go back then. In fact, we have added over 500 people to the total headcount of Maxus in Asia Pacific over the past five years.

Despite the blindingly obvious fact that it is much nicer and personally more rewarding to be involved with hiring hundreds of people rather than firing them it is interesting to look at the experience of our growth through the lens of talent. And as we at Maxus celebrate our fifth birthday and take stock of the past five years, it is also interesting to project forward and think what the next five years will bring, and how this may impact the client-agency relationship.

1) Agency resourcing becomes more nimble and flexible than ever

A major client assignment. A new win. An explosion in the way consumers use a new technology. All of these plus swiftly advancing programmatic tech will result in the need for a number of specialist/ category/ country/ skills in numbers at a moment’s notice. No matter how well we train and develop our people – we will always be playing catch-up. Fact. The speed and ease with which we can catch-up will ensure our success. Clients will recognize that it is not who is sitting in the agency at pitch time with time on their hands (read no one!) – but how quickly an agency can amass the team when their decision is made. Ask to see an agency’s talent acquisition process as part of your next pitch RFP!

2) Greater specialisms will increase the need for brilliant generalists

When media choice was limited we had less need for specialized skills (the cynics out there would say all that was required was the ability to put crosses in boxes). Now our media teams resemble American Football teams – with specialist skills in narrower and narrower areas from mobile app development to SEO or data analytic dashboard creation.

Just as in an American Football team – those specialist skills need to be managed and deployed and co-ordinated. In the football game, the coach is hugely active during every game making those calls. In our business, client leaders with similar coach-like qualities are going to become ever more critical. Along with client organisations that themselves are organized as teams – and not collections of specialist tactical zones fighting each other for their turn to play.

3) Freelance is the new permanent

Much has been written about the Gen Y/Z ‘Me Generation’ – and it is not my place to add to the theory. The current reality is that a number of people joining our business want shorter-term contracts with flexibility around days and types of projects. This has increased year on year. We are happy with this – it gives us vital skills and the buffer of easier cost reduction in the event of downturn. The ones who seem less comfortable are our clients. Which is strange – since major client firms have been using contractors in many parts of their business for years and years. We need to get better at explaining the benefits to our clients and encourage them to embrace the new reality.

4) The office shifts from space to concept

Second only to staff costs our office space is our biggest cost. Space gives a sense of self and brand and identity. And if it is in the wrong place in a sprawling city like Jakarta or Manila – the office space is the other end of a two hour daily commute…each way! So we can expect to see more offices in more and varied locations and teams embedded in client offices (in return for a reduction in fees!). More central offices for meetings and distributed processing centres in the suburbs for back office. We haven’t really started to explore what many of our clients have been already doing for decades. Now it is a case of needs must. And then our sense of brand and cultural identity will need to be stronger and better defined than where we go every day.

5) East Outwards…a newer challenge

We have been capable and competent as an industry in staffing global teams in the UK or USA or Paris to manage ‘the world’ from an advanced and mature market. Experienced deep pools of international executives existed, and continue to do so, in most of these markets. The new reality is that we’re helping State-owned enterprises in China to manage their relatively immature brands across most markets. So we need talent that ‘gets’ China, individuals who can work with Chinese clients and their expectations of a speedy turn around and being able to navigate the complex layers of decision making. At the same time these people will need to manage and lead teams across the world. Mmmm – a tricky one, but a requirement that is only going to grow exponentially.

Neil Stewart is the chief client officer at Maxus Global. He is based in Singapore


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