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Gabby’s Word 22 August 2013



Is recruitment in Asia Pacific difficult or easy?

Gabby’s Word 22 August 2013

It’s hot hot hot here in Hong Kong. So much so that the 10-minute walk home has resulted in me dripping with sweat and sporting a mop of curly hair that old Kim Basinger, stuck in the rain, couldn’t have achieved. Asia is currently holding it’s breath to see how much of a bashing the Philippines will receive from the ‘worst typhoon since 2009’. Personally, I’m half praying it swings by here, as I do love a good storm, and half wishing it zooms on by as it looks pretty vicious.

Last week I mentioned that in my six months here in Asia Pacific, a topic of conversation I hear from creatives a lot is recruitment. There seems to be an abundance of work to create and capture, but finding team members is an ongoing problem, so I asked several creatives within Asia this question: How difficult or easy is it to find creative talent in the region?

Where many in the past maybe viewed the region as lacking in talent or as a place for ‘has-beens’ to excel, the proof of the pudding is that, through new media and global clients, who economically cannot ignore this region, perceptions are beginning to change. This isn’t just through savvy PR – award shows alone are testament to the area’s creativity. 

Reed Collins, CCO of Ogilvy and Mather Hong Kong said: "Finding talent in the region is easy. Finding the right talent is the tough part. For me, personality is just as important as skills. At Ogilvy HK we want to foster an exciting environment for creative thinking. And passion for ideas is paramount."

Leo Burnett Singapore ECD, Tim Green, believes part of the problem lies with some employees’ loyalty to one agency. He explained: “There’s an abundance of extremely talented people in Singapore and around the region. Getting hold of them and tying them down to one agency is another story. The way people are working these days is a lot more fluid, they prefer to have many interests and projects happening at once. Making money is still a priority in people's lives, for sure, but agencies are only one of many ways. There is a real fear of being tied to one account.”

Valerie Cheng, CCO at JWT Singapore, further lamented Green’s view, saying: “There's no shortage in junior creatives and in fact, many of the fresh graduates are better trained in integrated thinking. Sadly, the gap is in senior creatives. Many are trying to catch up with the new media in order to prove their leadership qualities and to justify their price, which is often highly inflated from job-hopping.”

A bit of a hot topic, job-hopping was once again raised by Associate Director, Asia, of recruitment consultancy, Cogs Agency, Damien Bell: “While the industry is reporting strong profits and consistent growth much of the ongoing hiring is to replace existing headcount. Hong Kong and China in particular are relatively fickle employment markets, with many junior to mid-weight employees moving every 12-18 months for the slightest increase in salary or for a more attractive title.”

Farokh Madon, Chief Creative Officer, Y&R Singapore is frustrated at the difficulties in finding the right talent, explaining that “finding good talent has been, and still is, the biggest challenge. Add to ability, good attitude and work ethic… the stakes are compounded”. Grey Group Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia CCO, Ali Shabaz, agrees: “There's lots of talent available, but hiring good talent is getting increasingly difficult – especially in areas like copy and digital”. 

Cog Agency’s Bell also noted the small spanner that digital has put in the works of recruitment, saying: “The demand for digital creative talent in Asia is ever increasing. We’re seeing continued growth across all the major Asia markets, with agencies and brands alike competing to hire the best of the talent available. The greatest need, as always, being on the agency side of the market. Many traditional ad agencies are still integrating digital into their creative capabilities and are hiring entire creative teams.” He continued to say: “What is clearly evident is the emphasis on local market hiring. While businesses (particularly advertising and marketing agencies) are still investing in executive level ‘glamour’ hires from international markets, the need for languages on an executional level is paramount. Many international junior-mid level candidates are finding it difficult to enter the Asia job market.

Mirroring Bell, Grey’s Shabaz mentions: “Local resources are, for one, easier to hire because of the paperwork. That aside, they are able to work better with clients due to cultural similarities and some clients look for that. The downside is the fact that there's less fresh thinking that comes from having similar nationalities and experiences in an office. The ideas don't feel global and big and that could be a problem when it comes to regional and global work. A good mix of people is always healthy.”

How then, do we solve this? What are the options for future progression? It seems ironic that, as the rest of the world reports high levels of unemployment, the east complains of a lack of options. Cog Agency’s Bell and Leo Burnett’s Green conclude, aptly. Bell believes: “These markets need to acclimatize. Titles should represent the true nature of an employee’s role and inflated titles should not be offered to incentivise staff. Instead, more competitive salaries, greater benefits and work/life balance should be key factors to digest when considering retention.” While Green says: “I'm a firm believer in allowing creative people to be able to work fluidly within the agency - across everything. It's healthier for an agency to continuously have fresh perspectives on what a brand stands for (as long as it stands for something solid). I believe it mirrors the way people consume these days. It’s more human.”

There’s an abundance of talent out there, but, as in every relationship, it all boils down to personality, commitment, loyalty and integrity, from the ground up. To end on a positive note, I leave you with a quote from Bell: “All-in-all we are seeing and hearing positive things and Asia is nurturing some very bright and promising grass roots creative digital talent.”

I now depart for another month, until my return with a Spikes special at the mid-point of September. Until then, I leave you in the capable hands of Laura Swinton, who returns from vacation next week. 

For now… take care

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LBB Editorial, Wed, 21 Aug 2013 19:13:14 GMT