MARKETING MIX: You can’t get the staff these days - Bright young things have always been attracted to advertising, but what about the opportunities in below the line? Laura Fields reports on lopsided recruitment figures

As another batch of new graduates come crashing down to earth and start looking for a job, many will confidently say they want to work ’in media’. Press them further and you will probably hear mutterings about film, journalism and advertising. Ask them if they have considered working in direct marketing and most won’t know what you’re talking about.

As another batch of new graduates come crashing down to earth and

start looking for a job, many will confidently say they want to work ’in

media’. Press them further and you will probably hear mutterings about

film, journalism and advertising. Ask them if they have considered

working in direct marketing and most won’t know what you’re talking


The fact that advertising is seen as sexy and dynamic and below-the-line

as a dull backwater is nothing new. But this gap between image and

reality is beginning to raise concern among agencies and clients.

Despite growing at a furious pace and offering more opportunities for

creativity and responsibility than ever before, direct marketing and

sales promotion agencies face a chronic skills shortage, while ad

agencies drown in a sea of hopeful applicants.

The figures speak for themselves. The direct marketing industry employs

50,000 people and is growing annually by at least 10%, needing 5000 new

recruits per year. However, according to the Direct Marketing

Association, it only receives 2000 graduate applications.

Candidates for the Institute of Sales Promotion diploma have reached

record levels, with 350 being taken on this year, but the industry needs

four times that number, according to ISP secretary general Sue


This is in stark contrast to advertising, which employs around 13,000

people but has 3000 graduates applying every year for the 250 training

scheme places.

So unmanageable are the numbers applying for advertising jobs that the

Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, has had to devise ways to cut

down the deluge. Last year it made a video and brochure, distributed at

university career offices, to outline what a career in advertising


’It is too early to see what impact it has had,’ says Tessa Gooding, IPA

communications officer, ’but we had to do something. The situation was

disappointing for everyone. Bartle Bogle Hegarty recently received 3000

applications for just four vacancies.’

Rare breed

Below-the-line agencies are finding it harder to recruit keen,

knowledgeable young people, while direct marketers with two years’

experience are, says DMA chief executive Colin Lloyd, ’as rare as an

orchid in Hyde Park’.

This is leading to not particularly talented but experienced people

demanding silly money, pushing up the costs and compromising the quality

of work passed on to the client.

Simon Dalby, business development director at WWAV Rapp Collins, says:

’It is a desperate problem. We all de-staffed in the recession and we’re

paying for it now. Advertising is seen as the sexy career but, when you

think of the opportunities available in direct marketing, it’s


We are all finding it harder than we should to find account


Even high-profile clients with large direct marketing departments are

finding it hard to attract the right people. Paul Bridges, card

acquisitions marketing director of American Express, says: ’Before, all

we needed to do was place an ad and we would receive hoards of

applications. Now, we have to use head-hunters and be very specific

about the skills sets we require.’

Lloyd blames the situation on the industry’s failure to promote itself

and on inadequate training. What is needed, he believes, is a

co-ordinated strategy involving all the trade bodies, with agencies

playing their part by providing forward-thinking recruitment strategies

encompassing the needs of clients and suppliers. ’There is actually no

co-ordinated strategy for education in our industry. The trade

associations are slow and the educational establishments are ten times

worse,’ he says.

Summit to talk about

Lloyd calls for a summit meeting to address the problem. ’If we, of all

people, don’t know how to go about this, we should all be shot,’ he


These words jar at the Institute of Direct Marketing, Europe’s largest

provider of direct marketing education and trainer of 21,000 direct


Derek Holder, managing director of the IDM, says there is more interest

in direct marketing courses at universities than ever before and more

graduates applying for below-the-line jobs.

’There is no evidence to suggest that the majority of marketing

graduates think advertising is sexier. Our research suggests more

students are demanding to be taught direct marketing as they see it as a

key growth area.’

He admits that there is a skills shortage but attributes it to another

trough in a regular cycle. He agrees that a more co-ordinated approach

to training may be necessary: ’If the whole industry pulls together to

invest in long-term strategic training, this would ensure that there is

an overall pool of talented staff to survive these shortages. Staff are

not like instant mash potato, they cannot be generated to order


The problem is even worse in sales promotion, an industry which is

understood even less by job-seeking graduates. ’To say that there is a

skills shortage in sales promotion is the understatement of the decade,’

says Simon Mahoney, managing director of sales promotion company, SMP.

He believes the shortage spreads across all levels from graduates to

account directors. ’These areas will never be as ’exciting’ as

advertising but the problem is heightened by the fact that most students

don’t know our disciplines exist.’

Mahoney says this ignorance is illustrated by his agency’s latest batch

of applications. ’SMP is on the graduate recruitment list for a number

of organisations including the Sales Promotion Consulting Association


’So far this year we’ve received four applications. Two want to work in

our ’media department’, one in ’planning’ and one was from Holland with

a background in PR. Even our own industry cannot differentiate itself

between advertising and sales promotion.’

Training inflation

Lloyd warns of ’dire consequences’ unless the problem is addressed.

’Prices will go up and direct marketing will get less competitive. The

industry is rushing headlong into making more and more money, but not

enough is being ploughed back into training. We need to work out who is

going to promote the industry and who is going to pay for it.’

Perhaps the best solution is not to rely on the trade associations at

all. Jack Gratton, managing director of recruitment consultant Major

Players, says: ’It’s not in the interests of the IDM and SPCA to sort

this out.

For them, it’s too costly and time consuming. As they are both run by

committees, nothing ever gets done.’

Gratton has become so frustrated by the industry’s failure to attract

graduates at grass roots level that he has employed a head hunter to

deal with universities direct. He plans to run road shows, stage talks

by agency bosses and place ads in student papers to get his message


’You’ve got to hit them with believable people who they understand,’ he

says. Crucially, he intends to bypass the traditional routes of talking

to career offices and lecturers favoured by the trade bodies.

’Students don’t go to their career advice centres and, quite frankly,

the ones that do are not the types we want.’

Direct marketer

Emma Orris, a Manchester University psychology graduate, has been

working as an account executive at Wunderman, Cato, Johnson for nine


’The whole experience has been much better than I imagined, though I

didn’t have fixed expectations. One of its initial attractions was that

the work would be varied, and this has certainly been the case. As a

psychology graduate, I wanted to move to a ’people business’ and I have

not been disappointed. I deal with a huge mix of people - account

handlers and planners, creatives as well as clients. I was surprised and

delighted at how much psychology is used in strategic marketing


’I love my job because I learn so much everyday. I am working on the

Xerox direct mail campaign, where I am taking copy comments from the

client, filtering it back to the different departments and briefing for

artwork as well as completing a competitive review. I have also worked

on at least three new business pitches, which gave me a chance to find

out about other industries.

’Advertising did appeal to me and if I had been offered a job I would

have been keen, but now I’m delighted to be doing mainly below-the-line

work. It is more cerebral. My responsibility grows daily. Soon I will

learn about the theoretical side when I go on the IDM’s direct marketing

course diploma.’

Job seeker

Wai Kwok has just finished a Masters in strategic marketing at De

Montfort University and is currently seeking work in an agency.

’I have always wanted to get into advertising. It seems to me that ad

agencies are more dynamic and creative, but I realise the competition is

intense. This Christmas I applied to 12 of the top above-the-line


I didn’t consider BTL agencies because direct mail and databases seemed

too dull.

’I had some success in my applications, managing to get down to the

final six for Leo Burnett, but I had no definite job offers. My next

step was to apply to smaller advertising agencies. I found this hard as

you have to hit the agency at exactly the right time.

’Eventually I decided to look at other alternatives and this included

direct marketing. With the help of a recruitment agency, I started going

to interviews in this area and found it wasn’t as stuffy as I first


I could see that it offered more opportunities for strategic thinking

and job progression than I anticipated.

’Having said that, I did go to one direct marketing agency, which was

really a fulfilment company. I walked away. I don’t want to get involved

in the nitty gritty of packing and sending. So although I still have

some opportunities open to me above-the-line, I’ve now expanded my scope

to BTL.’

Ad woman

Annie Gallimore, Bristol University graduate in history, is now working

as an account manager at Leo Burnett Advertising.

’I haven’t had a burning ambition to work in advertising since


Originally I wanted to be a TV journalist. While in my second year,

however, several advertising agencies gave talks on their industry,

which appealed to me. I particularly liked the fact that it is such a

challenge to be recruited. I also really enjoy TV ads - and wanted to be

a part of their creativity. Direct marketing never appealed, because it

lacks this creativity.

’In the run up to my finals, I was interviewed by a number of agencies,

and this was a tough time as the interviews were both time-consuming and

rigorous. You are competing against the brightest graduates. Since I

joined, I have been thrown in at the deep end. Though I only joined in

October, it seems a long time ago because I have been so busy. I didn’t

do the same thing twice up until Christmas. Thankfully, I am never stuck

at a computer all day, which I would have hated.

’I am always on the go, running around making sure that everything is

running smoothly. I have even had my own project - McVitie’s Jaffa Cakes

- which I have handled myself from the client’s brief through to the

promotion six months later.’


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