Opinion

Q&A with McCann’s regional chief talent officer Jean-Michel Wu

Jean-Michel WuAt the end of August, Jean-Michel Wu, the talent director of the region’s largest communications group WPP, moved on after a decade of service to join McCann Worldgroup and a role as APAC chief talent officer, relocating from Shanghai to Singapore.

In this Q&A with Mumbrella Asia’s editor Robin Hicks, Wu talks about why he joined McCann, navigating Asia’s talent crunch, recruiting with cost pressures, and the most difficult roles to fill in adland. 

After such a long and fruitful time at WPP, why the switch to McCann?

I guess the short of it was down to one thing, the challenge. The role at WPP was always more around talent acquisition, and although I love hiring seniors and had built a solid team, I missed the operational and strategic aspect of talent management and being closer to the workings of a company. When I started speaking with Charles [Cadell, McCann’s APAC president] and the senior leadership at McCann, I felt there was a streak of positivity coming to the group with the Microsoft win. Then I visited the New York office, where they were on a six for six pitch win, I could literally feel the energy and optimism, so I was hooked. McCann has for a while been seen as a sleeping giant, but they’re ranked as the fastest growing multinational agency in Asia, so there’s definitely a feeling that things are starting to take off, and I wanted to be a part of it.

What would you say the key differences are between McCann and WPP in terms of their approach to talent acquisition?

I think WPP has the best talent acquisition resources within the region because they’ve invested the time and resources in building a great talent pipeline for their senior management. WPP is in a position to manoeuvre staff around with its own internal job sites. McCann is a work in progress, but as it’s a nimble group, I foresee its ability to move its best staff from all four corners of the globe to build better client centric teams. M:United and Commonwealth have been good examples so far in doing this where talent mobility is seen as a vital key in McCann’s success.

It’s often said that the biggest challenge facing Asia’s ad and marketing industry is the talent crunch. Would you agree?

Yes, but it’s a symptom of a much larger issue surrounding cost pressures to maintain a competing margin and to some degree, the level of human resources talent to put across their point of view to push for more resources to be more proactive than reactive. In other words, we all need graduate programmes and we all need senior talent development programmes, we need training, but we’re constantly under pressure to cut the budgets and the current crop of talent leaders aren’t fighting back.

In which Asian countries would you say the talent crunch is the most severe currently?

Certainly I see China as a tough market simply because of wage inflation, but also add the huge demand in clients’ marketing services, high potential employees have many options open to them. However, I would say all Asian countries have severe talent issues which are mostly particular to their own market, so the key is having a local rather than regional or global understanding.

Which roles in marketing and advertising do you think are the most difficult to fill at the moment and why?

In my humble opinion, it’s a fine balance. I would say finding good local client service specialists is becoming harder as they’re being enticed over to the client side. However, as an industry we need to make these kind of roles more attractive by focusing on the creative. So we also need to find truly excellent creative brains who can still be relevant to their local market and at the same time garner regional/global awards.

Who would you say is among the hottest rising stars in advertising in Asia at the moment?

Love your question, but all I can say is that I have a list of people I keep in touch with from time to time, and they know who they are.

Who do you think is the best person you’ve ever hired and why?

Great question, and one which I’m not at liberty to say. I have no favourites as I’m extremely happy helping a graduate choose the right type of role to the very experienced CEO who changes the DNA of an agency. I love making and seeing positive change, and helping people along the way.

What are your priorities for McCann in the year ahead in terms of talent?

As it’s only been a month since I started, I’m still wrapping my head round this large network. However, I’m very impressed with the level so far. In some markets we’ve been able to identify and recognise them, and in others not. Like at WPP, my aim is to make sure we develop into a more collaborative group, both in terms of our capabilities and skills, and be smarter with how we use them. McCann Worldgroup has real depth, from its award winning specialist groups like McCann Health and Momentum, to the centres of excellence in social, UX and analytics within MRM, which is all nicely wrapped up by its rather dapper central planning teams. I’m also a pretty dab hand at identifying new talent, so expect to see a few new faces coming to McCann.

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