Good times ahead for OOH sector, but attracting talent still a challenge

Experts say OOH sector is getting its due recognition and moving towards a better future; industry is getting more organised and luring fresh talent

e4m by Abhinn Shreshtha
Updated: Jan 30, 2015 8:33 AM
Good times ahead for OOH sector, but attracting talent still a challenge

The past two years have been quite productive for the OOH sector. And, 2015 has started with a promise that the outdoor industry’s representative body, Indian Outdoor Advertising Association (IOAA), will play a more proactive role, which is bound to bring more positive news for the industry in years to come. One area where the industry has traditionally lagged is in attracting new talent compared with other mediums.

TV has its glamour, print prestige, digital excitement and radio charm which has often led the humble OOH space getting the shorter end of the stick.

In an earlier interview to exchange4media, CEO of Percept OOH Rajneesh Bahl had said, “More and more professionals are getting into the industry and people are investing in it. The only concern is that the knowledge domain is not increasing. If this increases, the sector will do really well. No new talent coming to the industry, which stagnates growth and inflow of new ideas.”

This analysis is quite common when it comes to the OOH industry, but outdoor agency heads feel that the scenario has improved a lot and is changing for the better.

A reason for this, says Nabendu Bhattacharyya, CEO and MD of Milestone Brandcom, is that for a long time OOH was run and controlled by second and third generation media owners and given the nature of the business, it was largely an unorganised and complex industry with high fragmentation.

“The A&M industry adopted the OOH medium only during 1995-2000. Once agencies showed interest and began to take the medium seriously, clients also started to show interest and push agencies to deliver,” he said.

So how difficult is it to find the right talent, especially from different fields?

Laqshya Media COO Atul Srivastava says talent is now coming to the OOH industry from all sectors. Recruitments, he said, are happening from campuses as organisations now have long-term plans and projects. However, he agrees that attracting talent could be a bit difficult because of the perception of the industry. “But once they are in (the industry), retention is natural. Recognition of individual excellence is a key differentiator to this industry, which binds the challenge-seekers to it,” he added.

Sanjeev Gupta, MD of Global Advertisers, says experienced talent is expensive and experience might sometimes create an unbending mindset, which is not ready to adopt new ways of doing things. “There are factors such as increased competition, price cutting and rising HR costs. Also, talent seeks better packages, perks and more attractive responsibility profile,” said Gupta. This is a point to which Bhattacharyya also agrees.

“All new B-school grads want to join industries with proven returns. All of them look for a good pay package. That’s their mindset from the beginning. I don’t blame them as the OOH sector should first get the ‘industry’ status. Being the third largest medium, we still don’t have any industry unified currency. There are a few initiatives from the advertising association to address these challenges faced by the industry. Hopefully, we would receive positive responses shortly,” he said.

But talent acquisition is not just a challenge in India but something faced by outdoor agencies across the globe, says Amit Sarkar, COO (India) of Kinetic Worldwide. He said it could be because most practice leaders have come from the core business set. “In the past one decade, you will see a small number of people coming from different walks of life and form this set --most coming from the media space itself. Rarely will you get people from different sectors like FMCG, etc. This, in itself, is a challenge. If the OOH industry has to progress in India, we need talent from different fields,” says Sarkar.

Things are not that bleak as certain agencies have taken steps to attract and retain new blood from different fields. For example, Milestone Brandcom, which is now a part of the Dentsu Aegis Network (DAN), is constantly looking to hire young graduates from B-schools. Bhattacharyya said over the past three years, the company has hired over 25 B-school graduates.

Gupta, meanwhile, believes it is also important to scout talent in-house. “We have office executives who have grown to become media planners, managers and marketing professionals. We also ensure that we have leaders who are willing to coach and nurture new talent,” he says.

Gupta added, “Because we are not organised enough, we are yet to create formal institutions that impart systematic and specialised training in outdoor media management. This, I believe is the way forward. Till it materialises, training talent in-house is what works for me.”  

Hiyav Bajaj, MD of TDI, feels managing talent is undoubtedly a tedious process, but it is not impossible. “One has to be on the search constantly and keep meeting new people who are passionate about their work and future. Besides, it is essential to invest our time to train the existing talent and prepare them for the future,” he said.

According to Bajaj, the path to growth is a mix of both approaches — acquiring new talent from related industries and training the existing ones.

“Corporatisation of the outdoor sector is the best way forward. As long as the industry is individual/ owner driven, it won’t allow scope for the role of professionals in most of the cases. Large set-ups in the industry are able to get the right talent and retain them as well,” said Srivastava.

The entry of big foreign agencies will spell good news for the sector since they will bring in discipline and best practices that are urgently needed, feel outdoor agencies. This will also make the sector more organised and attractive for freshers as well as experienced talent from other sectors. For example, the entry of companies of the calibre of JCDecaux, Posterscope, Kinetic, Times OOH, Laqshya, etc. has increased interest in the sector.

Education, especially at the post-graduate level is another factor that needs to be considered. As most agency heads put it, advertising knowledge is limited to mainstream. “There is a wide gap in getting trained manpower. The industry needs to create opportunities for upgrading skills. All courses being run by various institutions focus mainly on creatives. They need to develop programmes for outdoor, so that the industry can benefit as a whole,” suggested Bajaj.

The OOH sector seems to be heading for good times as agencies get more professional and systematic.

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