“I think what we learned over the last few years, is that we’d lost that lack of pride in the industry,” says Linda Wong, director of people at the Media Federation of Australia. Everyone’s so proud of the work that we do [..] but the younger people in our industry don’t get to talk about it, and they feel like they’re not part of it, but they are part of it, they’re just not always a part of that day to day conversation.”
The MFA, the collective body for Australia’s media agencies, recently launched its new industry-wide platform and purpose, ‘We are the changers’ at its annual awards ceremony last month.
Like most people-first industries, the last few years have denied some of the new starts into the media agency world the introduction they may have expected, or hoped for.
The reality, CEO of Havas Media, (which produced the campaign) Virginia Hyland says is that “we’re a very sexy industry”.
“We are at the centre of any new technology, innovation, clients are coming to us now looking for e-commerce solutions, not just media planning and buying. So we’re a very interesting dynamic industry.”
Despite being an industry that lists its current population at 4,412 people, up 19% on the previous year, Hyland says “a lot of people haven’t heard of media agencies before. They don’t really know what we do”.
MediaCom’s chief strategy officer, and the lead on ‘We are the changers’, Sophie Price says that the new purpose aims to battle the “churn” in the industry, and restore some of that lost pride.
While growing year on year, the industry also saw 17% of the population leave it completely, a figure the MFA aims to reduce to 11% this year. The majority of this figure is coming from the three to five years’ experience group.
Retention, Wong says, is the whole reason for creating the campaign.
The aims of the campaign, however, Price says were the create something that “is much more motivating” for an industry that may have lost some of its shine.
This comes hand-in-hand with offering a clearer proposition for those looking at the agency as to what its people actually ‘do’, which Hyland and Wong admit, has always proved tricky to explain.
As the story goes, everyone says the same thing, says Wong, they tell their mum “well, this is what I do”, and then if their mum tries to tell her friends who you do she always stops and says, “Linda, can you explain to my friend what you do in the industry?”
“Now that we’ve created ‘We are the changers” we can go well actually we know what we do. We influence, change things with our influence, big and small. So it actually feels like we’ve landed on something really great.”
While it was a challenge, Price says that aligning on the industry purpose was a very unique opportunity. “We’re usually all very competitive in lots of ways, but this is something that had to be true to everyone in every agency.”
Part of rubber-stamping the industry purpose appears to be dusting off some of the cob-webs that have been lingering, and positioning the media agency industry as offering exciting and clear career paths.
Hyland says that one of the main roadblocks in the industry’s recent history was the transparency challenges, “but that has all been very much cleaned up since then across the entire industry”, with MFA guidelines helping to course correct agencies in providing expectations for its members.
“The other challenge is just really setting a clear path as to what the opportunities are when you work in a media industry and where it can take you, gosh, there are so many different elements and especially now in the industry you can have such diverse careers.”
“That’s been a challenge in the past few years, people understanding where media can take you.”
Price says she understands that when you start out in the industry and you end up spending a lot of time doing admin, sitting on tools, sitting on technology, babysitting algorithms, and you don’t see the bigger picture of the industry day to day, “you can lack a little bit of meaning”.
But the truth is that today, we are as an industry creating change every day, changes for our clients and their growth, but also even bigger picture stuff like affecting change in society.”
Part of this plan includes the MFA having close relationships with 15 different universities across Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, and Perth, regularly running “Lecture the Lecturer” sessions, where the industry hopes to show the next generation the industry purpose and display its various career paths.
One figure that has gone the wrong way in the last two years has been the reemergence of a gender pay gap within media agencies. The 2021 industry census reported a 3% pay gap for the second year in a row, after sitting at 0% the year prior.
Wong asserts that the MFA is “pretty proud” that it is only at 3% though.
“We did hit zero a couple of years ago, but when we talk to all the CFOs about what is happening with that figure, we feel like there has to be a bit of a bounce between zero and five, and if we can keep it below five then we’re doing a good job.”
“What we can’t track is the amount of experience against certain people”, says Wong, as she remarks that “hopefully it’ll make a difference now that Aimee Buchanan is head of GroupM like all those companies will probably change a little bit.”
Hyland’s “rallying cry” however is telling board meetings “we’ve got to be zero, we’ve got to be zero!”, and bringing it down from when it was over 6% several years ago, she jokes may have been helped by asking CEOs in the MFA board meetings “is it your agency that’s causing it?” And guess what? Two years later it was at zero.”
On a final serious note though, she says while it could be about a matter of experience, equally, “we just have to be mindful that it’s not a kind of prejudice that we’re not realising is happening again.”
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