In November 2021, Larissa Pohl, CEO of Wunderman Thompson Germany, was elected president of the German Association of Communications Agencies (GWA).
For the past several years she served as vice president alongside the previous acting president, Benjamin Minack, getting to know the association and its needs. Elected for a legislative period of two years to lead the association, now she’s drawing on that experience to help the German agency community navigate the biggest challenges it faces.
There is one challenge that looms large. In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, Germany has been hit by the same shortage in talent that much of the world is faced with. LBB’s Alex Reeves asked her for her thoughts on the subject.
LBB> The talent crisis is hitting the industry globally. How is the GWA engaging with that challenge?
Larissa> 2022 will be fully focused on talent for us. I don't know what the situation is in the UK. I have heard from Wunderman Thompson UK that they are facing similar challenges and that all other WPP agencies are about the same as well.
I hear from my colleagues within the GWA that the agencies are growing and they're growing in different parts. And of course, it's the newer parts – the digital parts, online parts, technology, data. We were lacking people. So we are looking for talent, and we will not survive if the talent only comes from other agencies.
We need to find ways to find talent, maybe in other markets. And we need to take care to create better working conditions, better part-time conditions, look after maternity and paternity leavers who are coming back.
Also the young people who are coming in, from university or school, still have this Mad Men reputation of advertising demanding hard work for poor pay. I think we need to change the reputation of agencies.
We recently did a survey within the members of the GWA, about 40 agencies. We asked how many open positions they have. And more than 1,500 positions came up. So the challenge is enormous.
LBB> What do you attribute the shortage of advertising talent to?
Larissa> I think there are two sides. There were articles all over the world on ‘The Great Resignation’. And it's not agency focused only. I think agencies are a part of that because teamwork is so important for us. Everything we develop is developed together. Agencies always work in teams. You have an account person, a strategist, a creative team. So working alone from home is more difficult for people because you need the exchange. And when you work at home, you usually cannot easily change your family or your partner or house. It's easier to change your job. And that's what I think many people did over the frustration of Covid. People took the opportunity to make a change and buy some stuff online. And when they wanted to make a bigger change, they changed their job. The company somewhat became a scapegoat for the situation we're in. A lot of frustration is just pushed back to the employer. I see that on the client side as well.
Then on the other hand, it's this breadth of positions that people are not aware that we have.
It doesn't help if we are taking people from Ogilvy and Ogilvy is taking people from Grey and Grey is taking people from adam&eveDDB. It's just circulating the problem. We need fresh people in the agencies.
LBB> How is the GWA planning to address that issue?
Larissa> What we're doing this year is planning an initiative of talent growth. We will prioritise the key target groups for us where we see the biggest potential and we will set up initiatives in all areas.
We have tasks led by various board members of our association. For example, one is looking after political communication and working with Berlin and our minister of work. Talking to ministers and state secretaries just to help us lobby on working conditions and legal situations. Those people set the scene for employers. We have a 40 hour week. What conditions do we have for home offices? In Germany, it is still like in the '70s, the regulations for working from home. The standards and the legal regulations are just not set. And it's not on WPP or on Publicis. It is the German government who's not following up with the situation we see in the market now. Covid has changed things, but if you want all people to work from home, as a company, you have to look after their working space at home.
LBB> What else are you doing in other areas?
Larissa> We have a mission around making people aware that we do have broad technology skills in agencies. So how can we bring more tech people into the business? They are not coming from the agencies or from university. They're coming from other industries.
We do have an awareness problem. Everybody knows Salesforce, Google, Meta, IBM, SAP, Unilever and Allianz – all these bright names you want to have on your CV when you're a young talent – but you don't necessarily know the agency names who are doing this famous, really good work. Maybe in the UK it's adam&eveDDB. In Germany it's JUNG VON MATT, who people know is a very famous agency, but most agencies are not known to young talent or to tech people. They wouldn't know we're doing Salesforce implementations. But we are. And we do it differently because it's with creativity as well. We look after the people and not only tech. Just from my agency’s perspective, I employed two people coming from a Salesforce integrator and they had no clue what we were doing in the agency. They thought, 'I'm not a creative, I can't help you.' The awareness is not there.
Since we're taking over a lot more roles than just doing TV commercials, we need more people to sit somewhere else and they just have no clue that they could do their job in a much more enjoyable way in an agency.
LBB> What's the answer? Speaking to where these new people entering the workforce are? So the universities and the schools?
Larissa> Yeah, I believe it is. This is definitely one area where every single agency can work around their surroundings. Every agency will have a university or a school in their neighbourhood - in Hamburg, in Berlin, there are many, many very good universities. So we can raise awareness there. But also we need to do good PR work, talking on online magazines the students and pupils are reading. Also having more access to the economic press, I believe. You hardly see anything about the ad agencies in the normal press. Other than our lovely trade magazines, you don't really see a lot.
We used to go to the cinema to see a reel of advertising and pay for it! Now just imagine a 20- or 25-year-old who'd go to the cinema and watch advertising for an hour. We need to find a way to make our agency brands more prominent again. I mean Mad Men is a super nice series, but it didn't help with all the discrimination in the series. We don't really have any image in public. It's just reflected from the past.
LBB> Covid continues to change how agencies function. How are you helping with that?
Larissa> The GWA is providing a lot of help for agencies. Many agencies, especially the smaller ones, do not have their own lawyer. So they do need help in understanding what rules they need to understand - when you cannot afford all the people, when you need to let people go, what can you do? All of that. So we're doing a lot of support here as well, as an association. And more agencies than ever before have reached out to us for help.
We're trying to help people with the new regulations, what's changing. We recently had a change of government and are trying to get our members informed about the changes in the coalition and so on.
Other than that I think our mission is always to inspire and to raise awareness. Our two biggest focuses are talent and technology. And I believe in 2022 the bigger one is talent. So we will look at talent from all different perspectives.