UM’s Mat Baxter says industry should stop apologising for long hours

Mat Baxter UMMat Baxter, CEO of UM Australia has called on the industry to stop apologising for the workload placed on young staff.

Speaking at the Secrets of Agency Excellence Conference (SAGE) hosted by Mumbrella’s industry guide The Source, Baxter said young Generation Y wanted to put in the extra time and effort to succeed.

Baxter said: “There’s no shame in putting in those hours and doing  that effort and I kind of feel that the industry is being apologetic for long hours — like, get over it.

“I know plenty of people working in medicine, and law and banking and other industries who work a fuck-load harder than we work, and every once in a while it’s like yeah, you know, we pitch occasionally. But do you want a career? Because if you do, you put in the hours. If you don’t go and find some other job where you work a known set of hours from 9 to 5 if that’s the sort of job you want.”

Baxter also argued that new business and pitching was a key part of being a media agency and this often required long hours in the lead up to a pitch.

“If you want to be a success you have got to put in the effort,” he said.

“Long hours doesn’t necessarily mean that the business is on some kind of negative cycle. Long hours can be really positive to benefit people’s careers if you get an organisation that is healthy, in a positive culture, which is focused on a single minded purpose,” Baxter told the room of around 130 guests at the Hilton hotel in Sydney.

“Young ambitious people will work the hours if they believe in what they’re doing.

“The Gen Y’s are highly competitive and there should be as much competition today as there was when I started out. They want to be stars, they want to be told they’re doing well, and you need to be consistently reinforcing that.”

Baxter said promotion and title serves as a consistent status update for young people who want to be seen to be doing well and by promoting people they will want to stay in the agency.

He said: “The fact that there’s 50 levels doesn’t matter, it’s just the fact that they got promoted. So we’ve got to change the way we’re managing. So I would say Gen Y are loyal and retainable when treated with the right management style.”

Baxter said the churn rate at UM is four per cent and the industry average is 38 per cent.

On the subject of hiring and retaining staff from the up-and-coming “Gen Y” the panel that also included Paul Bradbury, CEO of Whybin\TBWA Sydney and Elissa Good-Omozusi, chief officer of HR and talent at Group M, and Brett Dawson, co-founder of Bohemia, agreed young people are as ambitious as ever.

However Dawson said it’s also important for agencies to look out for people who are committed to their work and particularly young people who can develop an unhealthy obsession with advertising.

At his two year old agency, which now has 41 staff, there is a life coach available for every staff member to talk to about any aspect of their lives.

“It’s a statement to say we do care about the whole you, not just the work you, and you can see this person to work on any aspect of your life that you want to get in check,” he said.

“It’s one thing to say you have this value and another to invest in it.”

Megan Reynolds 


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