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Euro'vision blog

A look at the key issues for pharma across Europe

Talent: when will we ever learn?

Are we losing our future talent pool? Max can see some similarities to the previous recession… 

Where have all the flowers gone
Long time passing


Seeger and Hickerson

Ok – I confess! I've been in the industry long enough to remember the recession of the early 1990's and its effect on the industry. Actually for the most part – the industry came out of this major downturn superficially in a pretty good place, although many of the events that were set in motion at this time have had a profound effect on the last 20 years across companies in Europe.

None of these events was as important to the agency world as the knock-on talent vacuum that was created during this period. We all noticed it I think; five years or so after the end of the recession – everyone started to comment on how difficult finding middle level talent had become. And this vacuum bubble moved through the years. Depending on the length of time from recession it was sequentially (for client service as an example): account managers, then account directors, then client services directors and finally managing directors.

The cause of the crisis is not difficult to find. At the time of recession, things were bad but not terrible in the industry. However to protect margins and to build in some levels of insurance, much of the industry decided, independently of each other but all pretty much in concert, to postpone staff training and development, and to take-on existing skilled staff rather than training new talent from outside the industry. This had a major effect on the talent 'gene-pool', which did not grow as much as was needed, and on the development of existing talent, which was delayed and in some way stunted.

And this was coupled with the strange phenomenon of Generation Y. The mythical generation that seemed to want so much and commit so little. Actually in my view, what we actually were seeing was an always-existing sub-category of individuals. The difference was that with the lack of other outstanding talent they were now exposed in a very harsh light, rather than this being a new employee mindset.

So what is really interesting is that recently across Europe, we've finally seen the first signs of the industry coming out of this vacuum. Great new talent at the middle-senior tiers is finally coming through. Companies, painfully aware that they need new and fresh blood in order to prevent stagnation, have developed these individuals. And many of the ones that I have seen emerging around different agencies in Europe are really outstanding. Familiar with new technologies and comfortable with the change and constant turmoil that this can bring, this fresh influx of energy is really having a positive effect on the mindset and direction of many agencies.

So why is it important to think about this right now? Because we are in the middle of another, even deeper recession, which just looks like its only getting worse. And my fear is that already now, and certainly in the future, companies will again be tempted to cut costs and risk, by compromising on development and fresh recruitment. And it would be truly terrible if – just as things were getting significantly brighter on the talent front – as an industry we were again quietly creating another vacuum time-bomb, silently ticking away.

Having felt the serious consequences of this shortsighted vision on the quality of output and growth of the industry, not learning from history would be a folly we will regret for the next 15 years. I think we all have a responsibility to ensure that this is one mistake we don't make again.

Article by
Max Jackson

Max Jackson is CEO, EMEA & APAC, Sudler & Hennessey and former chair EACA Healthcare Communications Council

20th June 2012

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