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Talent management: Taking the blinkers off

The struggle to find talented staff shows no sign of abating but there are steps that can and should be taken to alleviate the problem

If you have been trying to hire account management staff in healthcare communications lately you may have noticed just how hard it is to find a suitable candidate – and even when you do, the chances are you will end up in a bidding war.

The problem is simple – we don't have enough account executives and and account managers to fill the available vacancies and, as of now, the industry is doing little to solve the problem long term. The potential answers rest in two areas – bringing in new talent from other industries or disciplines and training for the future so that the shortage is gradually eroded.

Bringing in fresh blood
Let's look first at bringing new talent into the industry. The shortage of candidates with pharma experience has meant that salaries have risen more in our industry than elsewhere in the last five years. So if you can offer a consumer account manager an additional £10,000 on basic salary alone, your chances of recruiting will increase hugely.

Training them in the specifics of pharma is not as difficult as it seems – and their skills are often broader and more flexible than people from within the industry. We have successfully identified and managed to move candidates from consumer agencies to pharma specialists, but they are the exception rather than the rule.

When good candidates are so scarce, the specific discipline may not be so critical either. Market research executives make good strategic account managers, particularly if they have been involved in researching ad ideas. They are also good candidates for planning roles – another area of shortage. Good planners can come from a range of agency positions or move from market research, as long as they have the creative understanding that is essential to writing a good creative brief.

The growing demand for digital knowledge combined with a solid healthcare background has also created demand for rare candidates.

The added problem in this area is that pharma companies are increasingly active in this part of the recruitment market and have deeper pockets and better packages than most agencies. Increasingly agencies have to face the dilemma of whether to hire digital specialists with limited healthcare knowledge or traditional account people without in-depth digital knowledge.

Arguably scientific copywriting roles are the hardest to fill – probably because the combination of creative writing skills and scientific knowledge is so rare. Once again sending some of the scientific writers on creative writing courses or weekend creative courses can help them on the road to a more rounded role as a copywriter rather than the scientific writer.

Investment in training is a key component of this though – done at the agency's cost and on the agency's time – but it can prove a sound investment for the future.

The graduates
This brings me to the second potential solution which the whole agency world needs to embrace – recruitment and training of graduates.

Agencies must be willing to invest a little money in recruiting and training graduates – just as other industries like banking, advertising, consultancy and media do already.

Taking on a graduate now is easy – investing in six months of training can turn a £20,000 raw graduate into an effective junior account executive in a very short space of time. There will be no long-term solution to the recruitment issues we face currently unless such changes are made.

Look before you leap
The growth of LinkedIn has arguably encouraged people to move without necessarily working out why they are moving to. If the move is simply about salary, it tends to falter at the resignation stage when candidates who have been waiting for a pay rise suddenly get one.

LinkedIn and online applications in general encourage a short cut to job hunting that seems to benefit no one, we regularly receive poor applications from candidates who have not had to write a good application letter or identified exactly why they like the role.

Recruitment is changing rapidly and I welcome a time when it slows down so candidates have time to think more carefully about their next move.

Sam SmallThe Author
Sam Small is managing director of Sam Small Recruitment

3rd December 2012

From: Sales, Marketing



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