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Interview: The talent deficit

Interview: The talent deficit

Agencies need to do more to attract and develop qualified personnel, says Sudler & Hennessey's Max Jackson

As the environment for agencies working in healthcare marketing continues to evolve more and more is expected of personnel in all departments.

As a specialised industry, however, there can be difficulty in finding the right people for the job. Speaking to PME Max Jackson, CEO, EMEA & APAC at Sudler & Hennessey, discussed the talent deficit faced by the industry.

Is there a problem with attracting new talent to agencies and, if so, why is this?
Max Jackson: I don’t think we have a problem with attracting new talent, I think the problem is that there isn’t a lot of talent around. But it also depends what you mean by ‘new’. If you are talking about new as in a new to agency it’s much more about finding qualified people rather than attracting. I think we can attract them if they are there, but the talent pool is very shallow - it’s an issue we all face.

Where do agencies face the greatest talent deficits?
Max: The deficits in our particular area are in senior account handling roles where we are looking for people with experience of client management and with the ability to understand products and have a strategic viewpoint and also to be able to manage a small team. I guess the second one is in the planning/strategic role - pure planners and strategists, while the third one would be in the space of digital project management where there is a dearth of talent with experience in healthcare.

How can new talent be identified?
Max: That is the $6m question. We are looking for going outside of our current comfort zones. Obviously in the account management role we have looked for people with an agency background, but we are looking now across a broader background from consumer health to consumer agencies and outside the industry. For digital project management that answer is we have to look outside the industry for people with management experience that we can train in healthcare.

We are also concentrating on growing our own talent. We are now recognising that there is little out there so we are thinking more about how to accelerate talent development and identify people internally and train them up as quickly as possible.

How can agencies best retain their existing talent?
Max: Money isn’t the only answer; it only solves certain problems. I think we have got to continue to look for ways of showing what we do in terms of development, training and environment. We are very poor on the agency side at providing a clearly defined career structure. And we have to recognise that people want to have fun at work - it’s a tough industry, so we need to provide a good working environment and a good work/life balance.

What is your approach to promoting future talent?
Max: The key is to realise that not everyone is going to be promotable. We just have to identify early on those people who we want to invest in, make it apparent that we want to invest in them and look for training that actually does have a benefit and does move them forward. Part of promoting future talent is to have a mentoring programme in place in order to provide support and make sure they have people to talk to and solve problems. It’s providing a situation where they can take risks and learn but with some kind of safety net.

Is a new approach to training and development part of the solution?
Max: I think it is. Traditionally we do a form of modular training that is ad hoc to fill a gap rather than thinking about a career journey and what are the building blocks on that journey. One thing we miss out on time and time again is the opportunity to complete a task and then sit back and ask how did that go and what did we learn. That in itself will probably be the single biggest thing we can do.

What effect will this problem have on pharma?
Max: It depends on what the industry is asking from agencies. We hope that they continue to look for strategic partners to help with thinking and not having a high level of talent will have an impact. As pharma companies are slimming down their marketing departments many of them are looking for support and strategic support and more senior support from agency partners. So that skills gap will make a difference.

However, the industry sometimes tends to drive down prices so we don’t have the time and energy to develop with people to put them in positions that will benefit them. So it’s a bit of a vicious spiral.

We are all partners in this but pharma companies have to recognise they have a role in helping develop our people for their future benefit.

Thomas Meek is editor at PMGroup