Solidify, diversify: people and culture leaders on navigating a talent-driven industry

As the year of the great job boom draws to an end, Mumbrella's Darcy Song spoke with the industry's people and culture leaders from SCA, Nine, Google, Wunderman Thompson and Hello Social about the next chapter in the people business.

In case you haven’t heard, we are in the great job boom! (Or according to every single article written about the workplace this year, at least.) With the scale of power tipping more and more towards job seekers, many industries have become incredibly talent-driven.

However, the media and communications industry is known for its effective ways of doing things when it comes to attraction and retention. According to LinkedIn’s research, professionals in media and communications have seen the largest increase in employer confidence year-over-year in 2022.

What exactly makes the industry different? Mumbrella talked to five people-and-culture leaders in media, tech and marketing companies about the people business.

Rebecca Ackland, chief people and culture officer, SCA

What’s your industry’s greatest selling point when it comes to attracting new talent?

It’s an interesting time for you to ask this question as I’ve recently completed a ‘roadshow’ visiting 25 of SCA’s 62 markets nationally and asking many of our people a similar question – what is it about SCA and this industry keeps you engaged?

And I hear the same two answers in every single market that I visit. “People” is the first response – we have passionate people who have a genuine dedication and enthusiasm for the work we do. Many people dreamed as little kids to grow up and work in media one day and to be able to say you’re living your dream is something that not many people can say.

And the second response is “the stories we tell”. It is about our people being able to say we are a content business that creates and tells local stories for local people and local communities – to keep them entertained, informed, and inspired.

In an increasingly global world – to be able to talk to local people in 62 markets about local issues facing Australians is incredibly powerful.

Not every industry can say that.

What industry workplace issue needs to be improved the most?

The media industry has to get better at reflecting the communities we serve. This means more diversity and inclusion represented in content. It’s an area of acute focus for us at SCA. We know that Diversity and Inclusion policies can’t just have an internal focus, they must also be about the talent and content creators we have on our radio stations and LiSTNR.

For our industry, there is a very clear social and economic imperative to better reflect the communities we serve, and the industry needs to catch up at pace.

What people and culture goal do you want to achieve in 2023 at your workplace?

Connecting our people to a greater sense of purpose and belonging after the fragmented COVID period has been our critical focus and will continue to be into next year. We know this is imperative if we want to retain our talented people in what is clearly a candidate-led market.

Achieving this has seen us introduce a range of initiatives including in-person strategy communication workshops delivered by our Executive Leadership team to all of our 62 markets – connecting our people to the business strategy, ‘stay interviews’ with top teams where we directly ask them questions like “what is it that keeps you?” and “if we were going to lose you for one reason what would it be?”, more regular pulse surveys, introducing a peer-to-peer recognition program, introducing a mentoring program, and so on.

What is the workplace achievement you’re most proud of?

SCA has an internal mobility rate of 50% – meaning for every job vacancy we have; half go to internal candidates. This is proof of the career progression opportunities available for our people, and the learning and development strategies we have in place to ensure our top people are ‘ready now’ for promotion when opportunities present.

We have also managed to reduce our recruitment process from seven to three weeks. In a marketplace where the biggest issues facing most businesses are recruitment and skills shortages – we absolutely have to have a robust and fast-paced recruitment process to ensure the business is able to meet the needs of our audiences and business partners.

I have more but you’ve limited me to the ‘proudest’. I’m incredibly proud of the work we do as a team and business.

Vanessa Morley, director of people and culture, Nine

What’s your industry’s greatest selling point when it comes to attracting new talents?

There are so many incredible opportunities for people working in the media, and particularly at Nine. It’s a fast-paced industry, with no two days ever being the same. Plus we provide the ability to flex your creative muscle – regardless of the role you’re in.

It’s also a really fulfilling industry to work in. Nine is a company with strong purpose and values. Our product touches millions of people everyday and we get to see that impact in real time. We bring people together by celebrating the big occasions, connecting the everyday moments and get to play a significant role with the local community – acting as a platform to raise money, and awareness for important causes.

What industry workplace issue needs to be improved the most?

We’re at an inflection point at the moment where we need to keep shifting the perception of the media industry from just traditional (radio, television, print) to be more inclusive of digital as well. This is a big factor in attracting the best talent who want to be involved in digital and tech.

One of our big priorities from a People and Culture perspective is changing the external narrative that if you’re in media, you’re a journo, in programming or production, when in fact there are so many more diverse roles across areas like digital, tech, finance, legal etc. It’s an exciting and rapidly changing workplace to be in.

What people and culture goal do you want to achieve in 2023 at your workplace?

We have four pillars of focus, these are: Purpose and values – further embedding and bringing them to life within the organisation; Talent leadership and inclusion – increasing our focus on D&I; Performance and reward – driving high performance and looking at organisation-wide R&R programs linked to our purpose and values; and Health and safety – increasing our focus on mental wellbeing, moving from reactive (where we were during the pandemic) to proactive.

What is the workplace achievement you’re most proud of?

It’s so hard to zero in on just one achievement, with so much that has happened over the past few years. I’d say the merger with Fairfax; managing our people through the pandemic and increasing engagement scores during this time; helping our people seamlessly pivot to new ways of working; moving our HQ to North Sydney and bringing our people together under one roof and shifting the culture; and consulting with our people to create a shared purpose and values at Nine are my biggest highlights – just to name a few!

Jessica Campbell, market HR lead, Google Australia New Zealand

What’s your industry’s greatest selling point when it comes to attracting new talent?

When people think of digital technology companies like Google, many instantly think of the cool offices and perks. While we’re always proud of our amazing benefits, there’s a lot more to our value proposition for employees. The biggest selling point by far is our company culture, which is one of transparency and where all employees have a voice — plus we have a lot of fun along the way! Throw in building products for everyone whether down the street or across the globe, and helping build a strong digital future for Australians through things like our $1 billion Digital Future Initiative, and you have all the ingredients for a pretty great and inspiring place to work!

What industry workplace issue needs to be improved the most?

Building a more diverse, equitable and accessible workplace for our industry. I know this comes up often but sometimes it feels like the pace of change is stuck in low gear! We know that building and growing a diverse workforce is not just the right thing to do — it drives business results too. When different viewpoints are shared and included, it sparks more innovation and ideas that better represent the needs of customers, users, and people around the world.

At Google, we’re always looking at ways to further expand pathways into technology-related jobs for underrepresented talent, including women in tech, Indigenous Australians, people with disabilities, members of the LGBTQI+ community, or many other groups. One example is our recently launched Google Career Certificates in Australia, which provide short, flexible training opportunities for Australians in high growth job areas including digital marketing.

What people and culture goal do you want to achieve in 2023 at your workplace?

Being an ambitious company, we of course have many! However for me, we can’t achieve much on this front if we don’t have an environment that fosters a sense of belonging and where people feel genuinely included. This means creating and fostering a culture where every Googler feels like they are welcomed, respected and supported to do their best work. We want everyone to feel proud of working at Google and proud of the work they are empowered to do.

For example, through our Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), Leadership and DEI councils, we ensure our culture is accountable, we listen to Googler voices, and have open forums and initiatives to help foster that sense of belonging. We know we have a long road ahead to get really good at this. However, we continue to be motivated by the progress we’ve made and the exciting plans we have ahead of us.

What is the workplace achievement you’re most proud of?

With the onset of the pandemic and a rapid shift to working from home, it’s no surprise that one of the most valued benefits for current and future employees is location and time flexibility. Across Google, in 2022 we adopted a hybrid work environment, allowing employees to split their time between working from home and the office. We continue to be guided by data — surveys, interviews, and experimental pilots — to make sure we’re getting the whole picture about how ‘Googlers’ feel and how to best help them. What we do know is that the future of work is flexible and Google’s future workplace will need to have room for all possibilities. Specific to Australia and New Zealand, in partnership with Beamible, we have also launched a time flex program which supports the introduction of greater part time and flexible hours options including a deep focus on lifting manager capability, role design and designing new learning platforms.

Robert Stone, chief people officer, Wunderman Thompson ANZ

What’s your industry’s greatest selling point when it comes to attracting new talents?

I think that all agencies are in a really privileged position where we’re actually able to impact society in a positive way. Every day our people are tasked to solve our clients’ biggest problems in creative and meaningful ways. I still believe that this is the biggest selling point when attracting new talent.

As an example of this, we recently partnered with the United Nations Development Programme and created a new version of ‘The Birds & The Bees’. This isn’t a story about how life is made, but how life on Earth can be saved. The children’s book was created to help kids have ‘the talk’ with their parents about what greenhouse gases are doing to our planet and show them how one conversation can lead to a brighter future for the birds, the bees, and every single one of us. Importantly, it reminds kids that they have the power to protect the planet by talking with the adults in their lives who care about their future.

What industry workplace issue needs to be improved the most?

As an industry, we’re still tackling and will continue to tackle significant issues such as even / fair representation within our agencies, as well as continuing to evolve policies and procedures that are reflective of the progressive society that we want to live in.

I do believe that agencies are all going to hone their efforts on providing a positive and creative culture, whilst juggling the highly debated topic of flexible working. We all know that the 9-5, 5x days a week model isn’t and won’t return anytime soon, however, we’re now starting to see and feel the impact of such a model due to its potential of an always-on attitude.

What people and culture goal do you want to achieve in 2023 at your workplace?

This year has been an amazing year as we continue to invest in future and next-gen talent. We’re launching the Wunderman Thompson Catalyst Academy next year, which is an 18-month rotational programme (across 4 capabilities) aimed at developing exceptional entry-level talent.

In addition to our academy programs, we’re also very excited to offer The Helen Lansdowne Resor (HLR) Scholarship to an amazing graduate this year.

It provides female and non-binary college students with the opportunities and support they need to successfully join the advertising industry’s creative ranks, following in the footstops of role models like Helen Lansdowne Resor – Wunderman Thompson’s (then J. Walter Thompson) first female copywriter – who was an unparalleled creative force during her time.

What is the workplace achievement you’re most proud of?

I think over the past 12 months every business has gone through significant change. There have been a lot of highs, however, we recently received the results of our all-office agency survey, which covers all aspects of the employee experience. What was extremely pleasing to see was that our highest scoring areas included being optimistic about the future of the agency, career development and opportunities, a culture of feeling safe and open, and that we’re committed to our employee’s mental health.

Yay Xavian, director of people & culture, Hello Social

What’s your industry’s greatest selling point when it comes to attracting new talents?

High salaries are so accessible in the market at the moment, I think we are seeing a shift in what people want, and that is the opportunity to work with great leaders, big clients and do career-defining work.

What industry workplace issue needs to be improved the most?

The balance between working from home and face-to-face. Every mature business has recognised what workers want. There is absolutely a benefit in working from home, getting that quiet time and smashing out the build-up of ‘to-do’s’. But what we need to recognise is that when we take this to the enth degree, the learning, knowledge sharing, mentoring, collaboration and vibe can be reduced. Our industry needs to learn to master this mix and bring our people on the journey.

In addition – The industry raced to reposition their EVP’s, focusing heavily on attraction over retention in the last 18 months. This resulted in a constant churn of resignations followed by replacing staff attracted to the ‘perks and benefits’.

The failure to prioritise succession planning to mitigate the impact of high turnover, invest in high performers, creating career pathways as a means of retaining were loosened and workplaces lost some great people. EVP’s became a weapon to entice, over a tool to keep their teams.

What people and culture goal do you want to achieve in 2023 at your workplace?

We saw a high retention rate of 79% in the last 12 months, far higher than other agencies of our size – We intend to deliver an even higher retention rate in 2023 and maintain engagement of over 85%

What is the workplace achievement you’re most proud of?

We’ve found a balance across a number of streams that has helped us attract, retain and engage our team. It’s a combination of great work through industry-leading pitch wins, the expansion of our leadership team to include more top-tier talent that can extend the depth of our coaching and mentoring and the provision of new people initiatives like our paid carers leave program. We’ve evolved from terms such as maternity and paternity to primary and secondary carers and bolstered the government incentives with extended company-funded paid periods and checking in days – a first for an independent agency of our size.


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