Polishing the rough diamonds

Yes, media agencies have too much on their plates, but they need to find time to nurture the newbies to keep the industry alive.

There are few things more exciting than seeing the passion and excitement on the faces of tertiary interns and new recruits who arrive at media agencies every year. For the most part, they are bright eyed, ready to explore this world of media. They are eager to start writing strategies, spending budgets and heading off on media jaunts. This drive is totally contagious; that is, for the first few hours of their first day, until I look down at number 143 on my ‘to do’ list.

They tend to be a lively bunch, with infectious energy. A few days into their arrival, the question surfaces: who is going to manage these individuals and train them to be part of the client-facing teams? All of a sudden all that remains in the passage where this conversation started is the sight of a weather-beaten tumbleweed rolling down the corridor and the sound of a lone coyote in the wilderness.

The fact is that training, mentoring and teaching takes time, energy and engagement. And we certainly don’t have much of any of those. Taking on an intern or a college-fresh team member is a large responsibility – as the responsible guardian, you are in charge of shaping this young professional into the best he or she can be within our industry. When I think back to the mentors, agency heads and trainers I have had in my time in media, I am so grateful for the calibre of professional with whom I engaged and the fact that they took the time to impart their knowledge. It wasn’t easy to find the time, and today where two or three jobs, functions or positions are concertinaed into a single person’s day-to-day, it’s near impossible.

On-the-job training and mentorship in our industry is of paramount importance to the future of our profession. Firstly, we cannot rely on tertiary and training institutions to deliver work-ready candidates – that’s not their primary role. Their focus is on equipping students with thinking and rationalising tools – to be used to reinforce on-the-job practical training. Secondly, we are ultimately responsible for the development and training of the next generation of media greats.

The reality is that we are running out of time. The responsibility has to be taken up by the industry as a whole and should not be left to a few agencies to institute and drive. And the time for that is now. Every agency should have a formalised mentorship and training programme focused on upskilling every team member in order to ensure they deliver to the best of their ability.

It’s important to highlight that mentorship and training should not fall just to senior management. There are many rising stars within this industry who may not have been here long enough to be sitting at the top of the table, but whose attitude, talent and ability is advanced enough that they can be used to foster a similar drive within their new colleagues. The new model of business tells us that a top-down approach is not the only way and that should apply to our industry as well. Some of the best client solutions don’t come from the old guard only, but can also be contributed by any member of an organisation.

I recently heard of a company that has an idea/concept/solution jar in the common pause area of the workplace – accessible to everyone. The aim of the jar is to encourage staff – regardless of the department in which they work, their level or job function – to think about the business of the organisation, current client briefs, proactive campaign concepts and submit ideas on how to tackle these business concerns. Once a week these ideas and suggestions are evaluated by the company’s exco and if there is something that stands out as innovative or revolutionary and is deliverable, the contributor is recognised at the company meeting and rewarded with various incentives. This collective contribution model encourages people to talk about their business challenges with their colleagues and engenders a collaborative approach to the business that naturally contributes to building the collegial support between teams and the internal mentoring and training of the company.

At every level within our industry, there are rough diamonds – individuals with incredible potential and talent who need enough support in having their wings stretched so they can expand and grow. The responsibility for the polishing of these diamonds cannot reside with one individual or a single department. Instead, agencies need to embrace a model of collaborative mentoring – building business success through utilising the often untapped resource of collegial support to drive training and build mentorship capabilities within the organisation.

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