industry insider, culture

The firm engages a diverse hiring panel to ensure it hires the most agile, competent and self-starting amazing talent. "We aim to recruit colleagues who help and inspire each other to put everything we are into everything we do," says Bernadette Chan, Chief People Officer, Asia, VMLY&R.

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Industry Insider: Bernadette Chan, Chief People Officer, Asia, VMLY&R
Sector spotlight: Marketing
Based in: Singapore

The number one talent challenge this sector is facing

It’s a truism that an agency is all about its people and what differentiates us from our competition is the talent we attract and retain – it’s how our teams analyse insights, the creative spark they have to imagine and bring to life great work – these are the proven tools we bring to our clients, to future proof businesses and the industry.

The war for acquiring and keeping quality talent has been a perennial business challenge for years. Marketing of today’s world presents a myriad of options to the creative class, many of which didn’t exist just a decade or two ago. Digital disruption has enabled us to create innovative marketing strategies and bring an omni-channel approach to our campaigns. For example social media marketing, customer experience which is data & technology enabled.

Any business that doesn’t offer both the breadth and the depth of offerings is going to lose out on today’s discerning talent.

Developments that are intensifying this challenge

The marketing industry has undergone tectonic shifts in the past decade that have had an acute impact on talent. The industry’s best in class used to be judged mostly by the emotions it created and inspired…now, in addition to the human emotion, the output is more strategy, data-driven, new technology-enabled and ROI-obsessed.

With COVID-19 accelerating the shifts, the last two years have had an unprecedented impact on many businesses. While we could never have been totally prepared for this VUCA world of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity, many businesses including ours had to pivot quickly. And pivot quickly we did.

Consumer behaviour and beliefs have changed dramatically and as a result we see an increase in clients whose businesses have had to focus on digital marketing and e-commerce rather than traditional marketing efforts as their go-to-market strategy. This translates to an even more urgent need for us to find that unicorn who has a very different skill set.

To further magnify the talent and skillset scarcity, we now have many more types of marketing organisations than ever before, and a much wider, end-to-end marketing function that must be performed within those organisations.

Traditional agencies, new platforms, brands on the client side, start-ups, consulting firms and dozens of other entities are all searching for talented marketers, and without a growing skilled talent pool to match, the entire industry is grappling with talent shortages.

To compound this issue, digital disruption has increased expectations for speed, quality, efficiency, accuracy and rigour across all elements of the marketing mix. It is also no surprise then that stress and burnout is an increasingly common problem throughout the industry as marketers go through intense pitches and extended hours to deliver the next award-winning campaign. The pandemic and the changed ways of living and working have undoubtedly exacerbated our VUCA world.

Best practices: Strategies that have worked in tackling this challenge

Agency life itself offers unrivalled unique selling points (USPs). There are not many work environments which can offer the adrenaline and thrill of working as part of a passionate team of experienced and ego-less marketers, offering best-in-class of creativity, innovation and new technology. As an agency, we work tirelessly to create truly connected experiences and brands which can make real impact in the world, helping to influence and shape culture and communities. I must admit, it is not for the faint hearted.

Hence, it’s incredibly important that our recruiting efforts focus on the importance of culture fit in tandem with role fit from the get-go. We have a robust selection process focusing on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) where we engage a diverse hiring panel to ensure we hire the most agile, competent and self-starting amazing talent. We aim to recruit colleagues who help and inspire each other to put everything we are into everything we do.

We also have an employee referral scheme that incentivises our best employees to bring in talented people who we may not have otherwise found, and who may not have found us. We have found it to be an amazingly effective way of expanding our network and talent pool.

In a constantly evolving industry, it is imperative for us to stay relevant and to constantly build industry-leading capabilities that allow us to stay ahead of our game. We run capability clinics across the region to share cases and practical tools so that we have cross pollination of skills and knowledge. We also tap on rich learning resources from WPP, our parent company as well as from our Global VMLY&R network to expand learning opportunities across the globe and continue to shape the future of talent growth in our industry.

Staying ‘human’ - just as people remain the pivotal power behind driving fame and fortune for us, fellowship and human relations with a strong focus on empathy remain pivotal for attracting and retaining talent.

We have implemented programmes such as VMLY&R Cares, focused on empathy, growth and leadership for employees at every level of the organisation, as well as Moments that Matter (mTm), an employee engagement programme with activities for offices to localise across Asia.

These initiatives encourage and remind leaders and employees to take a moment to care and focus on themselves. Specifics can range from power off days for employees to disconnect, or care packages sent to the homes of employees to stay in touch. These programmes represent our continued commitment to creating meaningful employee experiences and connections. It is also our way of investing in employee well-being and encouraging self-care.

The next big priority for HR professionals in this sector

The impact of COVID-19 is here to stay. As the Delta variant continues to spread, our back-to-office plans have been delayed across Asia and many of our markets are experiencing another round of shut downs. Our continued challenge is creating connected employee experiences for hybrid and remote workforces. The questions revolve around the same three pillars – process, systems and people,

including our leaders. How do we make radical changes to our touch points and processes to enable us to create meaningful connections, experiences and growth journeys for our employees in spite of these new and challenging circumstances?

How do we build a workforce which can come from a borderless talent pool? How do we adapt our existing systems, infrastructures and ways of working to tap on talent that can work from anyway around the world?

Lastly and importantly, how do we future proof our organisation with the right leadership capabilities in this increasingly volatile and uncertain world? Leaders who are able to build and lead teams which are resilient and adaptable have become increasingly crucial. As an agency, we can do everything when it comes to programs, process and systems, but one thing is for sure, leaders play a critical role in keeping this momentum going.

How CHROs are proactively preparing for the future workplace

The role of people teams across the globe have changed radically and we are no longer just focussed on delivering HR transactions. I am grateful that our teams across the region have banded together to decode the new norm. Kudos goes to the network’s HR community across the region and the globe. We now need to continue to move ahead to be at the forefront, leading and steering the direction of our people via well thought through strategies and decisions which directly impact the sustainability and scalability of our business. The only way to be able to do this is to be intimately involved in business decisions and discussions, offering up an HR lens, to provide leaders with the full picture.

While most organisations are focused on emerging from the pandemic and re-opening workplaces, it is also important that we shift gears and look at how HR can be more agile and respond more swiftly and effectively to evolving employee expectations, business requirements, disruptions in ways of working and our workplaces.


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