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Marketers to Singapore’s universities: Your teachers are out of touch with the real world

Singapore might be the most powerful media and marketing hub in Asia Pacific, but graduates produced by the city’s universities are not of the calibre needed by an industry undergoing radical change, the boss of a top ad agency said at Mumbrella Question Time last week.

L-r: Oliver Chong, Chloe Sasson, David Tang, Sonya Madeira, Jeffrey Seah and Robin Hicks

L-r: Oliver Chong, Chloe Sasson, David Tang, Sonya Madeira, Jeffrey Seah and Robin Hicks

David Tang, vice chairman of DDB Asia and CEO of DDB Singapore, said during the panel discussion that, at the root of the problem, “Marketing is not taken seriously [as a career choice] in Singapore”.

Tang fielded a question from a university delegate on assignment from the government on the topic of developing the next generation of creative leaders, in reference to Singapore’s recently announced SkillsFuture programme.

“Why aren’t universities sitting at the same table with agencies and having the right dialogue?” he asked.

“Frankly, the guys running the curriculum are out of touch with practitioners in this industry,” Tang responded.

“If the government thinks that it can understand the changes the industry is going through by sending in a squad to talk with us for one or two days, they’re kidding themselves.”

“The level of change the industry is going through is tremendous. I’ve never seen this sort of crazy change – it scares me – and it’s not getting any easier to understand.”

Universities needed to adopt a more “pragmatic model” to learn from practitioners to better equip young people coming into the business, Tang suggested.

The industry was “lucking out” with whatever talent the current curriculum was producing, he said.

Jeffrey Seah, Southeast Asia CEO of media agency Starcom MediaVest Group, suggested that up to 40 per cent of the syllabus needed to be updated every year to keep up with the pace of change in the marketing industry.

He also noted that the staff attrition rate in the business had risen to 30 per cent among junior staff, who were no longer prepared to stay on one account as previous generations had.

Sonya Madeira, the founder and MD of PR agency Rice Communications, said that teachers needed to “refresh” what was being covered at universities.

“We can guest lecture till the cow’s come home. But my suggestion is that teachers come back into the work force, do a six-month sabbatical, and then go back to teaching,” she said.

Oliver Chong, head of brand marketing and communications at StarHub, said that an initial six-month period for his company’s young marketers was critical for them to get a real-world understanding of marketing.

“We need them to go into agencies and different marketing departments and appreciate the real work behind the brand, and what goes on on a daily basis,” he said.

Google has had problems across the board in finding new recruits, shared Chloe Sasson, the internet giant’s agency business lead, WPP, for Southeast Asia, who moved to Singapore from Sydney 12 months ago.

“I think every role is hard to fill – and not just in this industry,” she said.

Young would-be recruits in Singapore were lacking in the basics of marketing, Sasson said.

“They may have the technical skills, but not the fundamentals of marketing and how to tell a good story,” she said, with the caveat that Singapore’s small population and transient talent pool made hiring even more difficult.

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