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Intelligence Briefs

Taking advertising from a job to a profession

Industry Contributor

James Powell, Head of Talent & HR

16 March 2020 3min read

The media agency industry is looking head on into a great opportunity to step up – but it’s our choice if we take that opportunity or ignore it.

The 2020 MFA Industry Census is a great depiction and representation of our industry.  It shows in no uncertain terms that we are a growing, experienced and financially strong industry. These and other results could all improve even more if we were to move towards becoming a profession rather than treating our industry as just a job. 

Key points

  • The MFA Industry Census revealed that staff numbers in media agencies grew 5.6% year-on-year, with MFA agency members employing 3,902 people.
  • In addition, the average industry experience is now 8.1 years, up from 7.7 years the year prior, while the number of people with 20+ years’ experience has doubled in the past three years.
  • Agency tenure is also up, at 3.4 years.
  • The proportion of women leaders has risen to 44% of all management roles held by women (up from 37% the year prior).
  • On the other hand, 11.5% of people who left their media agency jobs last year left the industry entirely.

My Takeout

The key piece of data that says to me that we need to change is that 11.5% of people exiting agencies are leaving the industry. One of the things that this suggests to me is that many see their roles as without an option to be a sustainable long-term career for life and they are not finding them purposeful or fulfilling. 

That’s something we can easily tackle together with some incremental changes, if we take steps towards building the jobs in our industry into a profession. Becoming a profession not only provides more valuable and purposeful roles for our amazing industry participants, it also allows us to justify increased revenue and remuneration equal to the quality of knowledge that we are providing our clients. 

We have an amazing industry, filled with passionate people – leading the WARC Media 100 results show us that. Our people allow our industry the opportunity to be the next professional services business following in the path of the legal profession, accounting and other highly qualified professions.

The legal profession commenced during the Roman Empire, while the accounting profession can be traced back to ancient Mesopotamia with auditing systems used by Egyptians and Babylonians. In contrast, the advertising industry is believed to have been spored during the 1920s to help improve product sales – but the Egyptians used papyrus to make sales message and wall posters. So as an industry, advertising professionals have been around just as long, but without the value and power that comes from building advertising into a profession like the accounting and legal professions.  

As our industry continues to grow and develop at the pace identified by the MFA Census, we have the opportunity to ensure we don’t fall into the same perils of industries such as financial planning – which failed to adapt quickly enough and prioritise the actual needs of their clients. Failing to see these warning signs and the opportunities that face us as an industry will not lead us to long-term success.

Here are some definitions by the Australian Government agency Professional Standards Council:

  • A profession is a disciplined group of individuals who adhere to ethical standards. This group positions itself as possessing special knowledge and skills in a widely recognised body of learning derived from research, education and training at a high level, and is recognised by the public as such. A profession is also prepared to apply this knowledge and exercise these skills in the interest of others.
  • A professional is a member of a profession. Professionals are governed by codes of ethics, and profess commitment to competence, integrity and morality, altruism, and the promotion of the public good within their expert domain. Professionals are accountable to those served and to society.
  • Professionalism comprises the personally held beliefs about one’s own conduct as a professional. It’s often linked to the upholding of the principles, laws, ethics and conventions of a profession as a way of practice.
  • Professionalisation is the pattern of how a profession develops, as well as the process of becoming a profession.

In my view, our industry possesses a number of the elements listed above – advertising standards, marketing degrees with specialist advertising and media communication subjects and specialities, specialist training and skill development that is only housed in our industry and our agencies.

We also already have a number of players in the industry who could take up the challenge and adjust their upcoming objectives to help us all work towards building our profession.   The MFA is critical to this and, as the central body representing us as an industry, it has the opportunity to develop the minimum professional standards – including testing to ensure professional-level skills, capabilities and qualifications are meet. The organisation already provides best practice professional development that could fit into those standards.

Secondly, the MFA could build out our professional standards and disciplinary process when things go wrong to ensure we control and achieve a set standard that is required of a profession. These activities would require a democratic and joint effort to build out to suit the whole industry over the coming years, but is absolutely possible and achievable in the foreseeable future.

Let’s start the conversation now with the MFA and ourselves to help keep our industry strong and positioned ready to ensure that we have a place in the market and a strong presence in delivering the brand and demand stories of our clients, going well into the future.
Let’s go. What do you think?

Industry Contributor

James Powell, Head of Talent & HR

James is an HR Leader with over 10 years’ experience in HR and business partnering across Tourism, Government, Infrastructure and Financial Services. He has completed his Masters of Human Resource Management from Deakin University. In James’ career in HR, he has led teams, coached teams and business leaders from all levels of management to succeed in using HR interventions to achieve business strategy and productivity objectives. He enjoys building strong relationships with client groups, acting as a credible activist to guide the business to implement evidence based interventions that develop a high-performance culture. 

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