Graduate: Why advertising agencies seek new masters

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The Independent Online
It may seem merely an art but advertising must show it has the muscle to survive in the global environment. Meg Carter hears how the industry is turning to MBAs as the answer.

The advertising industry is working hard to develop closer links between agencies and colleges in an attempt to persuade new graduates to move into the business. Now, agencies are attempting to woo postgraduates with second degrees - especially those with broad-based business qualifications such as MBAs.

As the advertising business becomes increasingly international, there is a need for skilled business professionals able to manage agencies in the global market.

True, many senior agency executives are given time to study for an MBA or take similar, shorter courses. But only recently have agencies begun actively to forge links with leading business schools to persuade the cream of business postgraduates move into agencies.

Leslie Butterfield, chairman of the London advertising agency BDDH, acknowledges the need for better business qualifications, but says few MBA graduates approach him for jobs. "There is a scepticism in the ad industry about the value of business degrees which is not present in other industries," he says. "There is a deep-seated belief that the core skills of advertising are more akin to an art than a science."

Few, however, can afford the luxury of this view, he adds. "As agencies are increasingly under threat from management consultancies, they must up their game in terms of the skills and quality of their senior management."

One agency attempting to secure international business talent is Grey International which this month announced an alliance with one of Europe's leading management schools, EAP, to provide business graduates with an opportunity for hands-on experience of the international advertising business. The aim is to attract more top calibre postgraduates.

The message - that advertising can offer a challenging, rewarding and stable long-term career- is a necessary one. Throughout the recession, the industry's reputation was severely dented by down-sizing. Many business graduates who had been taken on in the late Eighties lost their jobs and did not return, even when business started to improve in the early Nineties.

That left a vacuum in middle management that endures today. Recruitment has begun again in earnest at junior levels, but a number of leading agencies are finding difficulty in filling positions higher up the ranks as the international advertising business continues to grow. The problem is even worse for international groups such as Grey, which need managers skilled in international business.

"You don't find many MBAs in agencies, but there are many bright young graduates," observes EAP's UK director, Professor Chris Halliburton. "This is because advertising is seen as a very specialised task and the general move amongst postgraduates is towards roles involving broader tasks such as marketing."

Peter Andersson, administrative manager responsible for internal communications within Grey International and a recent EAP graduate, agrees. "The problem is few outside the industry understand how agencies work," he says. "All major consultancies, banks and fast-moving consumer goods companies sell themselves hard to business students, but not advertising agencies. There's a feeling among students that they won't be challenged in the agency environment- that advertising is about `soft' skills which is not what business students are trained for."

There is an undeniable need for international business skills in a variety of `hard' roles in the global advertising market. Which is where EAP hopes its multi-lingual business graduates will be well-positioned to move.

EAP is an international business school based in Paris, Oxford, Madrid and Berlin, running a number of courses including full and part-time MBAs and a European Masters in Management degree. The European Masters in Management is a three-year, trilingual course involving project work and placements. The school already has links with more than 100 businesses which accept students on placement and with a further 10 which retain students for project work. However, the majority of them are either city-based on broad- based businesses, rather than marketing services companies and advertising agencies.

Developing closer links with the advertising industry will serve two key needs, Professor Halliburton believes. Firstly, it will better educate the 33 per cent of students who currently leave for careers in marketing and sales - tomorrow's advertising agency clients. Secondly, it will encourage more to move into agency roles - a route taken by only 1 per cent of recent EAP graduates.

"There has been a gulf separating the advertising industry from management schools for far too long. It's time this was bridged at a second-degree level, for the benefit of both parties."