Training and retaining top talent: IPG Mediabrands’ Leith Mellors on fostering the next generation of digital marketers

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This is the second in a regular series on Think with Google Canada, in which thought leaders share their insights and guidance on topics that are top of mind for marketers. In this installment, Leith Mellors, Senior Vice President of Talent, Canada at IPG Mediabrands, talks about how agencies can play a key role in fostering the next generation of digital marketers, and how to nurture and retain the best talent in a time of industry upheaval.

With growing competition, increased number of opportunities, and a new generation of digital marketers eager for mentorship, agencies need to make hiring, nurturing, and retaining the best digital marketing talent a top priority.

It’s not easy. The landscape is constantly evolving, opening up more opportunities by the day. How can a digital marketing organization keep its people happy, growing—and not looking elsewhere?

At IPG Mediabrands we’ve been focusing on this question, and six years ago, the company dedicated a team to invest in talent. We’ve created a best-in-class internship program and an evolving training and certification system, but above all we are working to ensure there’s an environment for growth and development.

To me, nurturing talent is one of the key elements of a healthy business. That’s why my job is to make sure that our organization is one where talent can thrive, and that we're giving back to our people. We ask a lot of employees in this industry, and it should be our top priority to invest that back into our people.

Here’s a look at some of the key things I’ve learned about how to become an employer of choice in a competitive industry.

1. Show you care about people as people

The beauty of our industry is that it’s constantly evolving, but it’s also a struggle at times for us to keep up and to establish teams that can evolve, be nimble, and hone their skills as they go.

First and foremost, we want our employees to know that we care about them as people. One of the ways we do that is to make sure they’re aware that we are constantly working to create and foster a culture of change and growth.

People perform their best when they know that we care about them and we’re invested in them as individuals.

If an employee isn’t being supported, trained, and given the chance to expand their skills, they’re going to get restless. We regularly communicate job opportunities to our employees across our network. We also encourage managers to have regular career-pathing conversations with their teams. This continuous feedback mechanism and focus on career sends the message to their employees that they have a solid road ahead of them within this organization.

Ultimately, as employers, we have to show our teams that they’re valued. People perform their best when they know that we care about them and we're invested in them as individuals.

2. Educate your teams, at all levels

Our retention and development programs are constantly evolving to reflect the needs and standards of the industry. We ask employees every year what skills and learning investments they’re most in need of for today and for the future, and we build our learning strategies around that feedback.

Companies need to invest the money into learning and development, and protect that budget. At Mediabrands, we are strongly invested in Google’s training and education programs, one of which being Digital U, a program that leverages an innovative format to educate our teams on the changing media landscape, focusing on areas like performance marketing, digital video and measurement. We enroll our assistants through to manager level in the program each year ensuring our employees are well-versed and able to apply these learnings to their clients’ business right away.

Our employees also tell us they’re eager for mentorship in all forms, and we’ve responded with several different avenues for it. One example is our female-focused mentorship program that pairs emerging female leaders with senior female leaders, to drive shared learning and create a circle of support and internal advocacy. Our clients are also participants in this program, which deepens our partnerships with them and provides an opportunity for shared learning.

Finally, I’d highly recommend putting focus on a strong internship program. Most agencies have some form of this, but we believe that ours excels because of its depth and experiential approach.

Here’s how we do it: Our program is designed around the key pillars of learning - a combination of hands-on experience; mentorship and coaching; and formalized, foundational learning. Our Residents, as we refer to them, join us for 16-week paid positions, and move through a number of targeted learning experiences to grasp the fundamentals of media and performance. We hire more than 85% of our residents full-time following their internships - the main objective of the program is to hire and develop future talent for Mediabrands and our agencies.

3. Make mobility possible

We have an industry of emerging talent that still has a perception that you have to move to grow. It’s incumbent on us as leaders to help employees create a real sense of career within an agency, network, or organization.

Turnover, as we all know, is expensive, disruptive, and it puts a lot of pressure on our teams. Ensuring your employees know they have a path at your company is critical, so they don’t feel that they have to jump in order to broaden their portfolios or deepen their knowledge.

The way we foster that at Mediabrands is by encouraging mobility. For every job that's posted, we search within our network for candidates first before extending the search more broadly. We also feature hot jobs every week within the company so we're ensuring visibility for open roles.

We have to raise the bar as an industry, and think about how we can continue to be an attractive path for bright new talent.

If you’re leading a smaller organization with fewer resources, you can still make mobility a priority for your teams. Focus on how you help people broaden their skills — that could mean moving them between clients after a certain amount of time. It could also mean pulling people onto integrated projects, and bringing together a diverse group of people from different places to give them an opportunity to hone and broaden their skills, without actually having to move them around.

Regardless of your size or scope, I think it’s very important to talk to your people about career pathing. Too few people leaders are having those conversations with their teams.

There are a lot of competitors right now in the digital talent space, more so than there ever have been. We have to raise the bar as an industry, and think about how we can continue to be an attractive path for bright new talent, and how we can be truly world-class employers.

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