If anything became clear during this summer's upfront ad market, it was that the media industry—and the language of media—is radically changing. Virtually every major ad buy on broadcast and cable networks included multiplatform components, with money earmarked not only for television but also the Internet and newer media such as podcasting.
Agency executives and media recruiters say job seekers looking to get ahead must be willing to break out of any tightly defined mold—such as network-TV buyer—and focus instead on every available outlet to promote a client's brand.
Planners and buyers have typically been trained to become specialists in either traditional or new media. People with experience in both are in short supply.
More problematic, the dot-com bust earlier this decade led many media people to leave the industry and discouraged others from jumping into it, according to Kurt O'Hare, president of New York-based recruiting firm O'Hare & Associates. That drained the industry of new-media experts with a few years' experience.
“Now, when everybody is trying to bulk up their departments and capabilities, there is a very small universe of people who managed to stay in the industry during lean times,” he says. “They are in very high demand, and they are driving salaries through the roof.”
Media buyers have to be a lot like bungee jumpers. They need a sense of daring, a willingness to be a risk taker, and a readiness to plunge into the unknown.
“It's the thinking skills that are most needed at every level, to put the idea and the consumer at the center, versus the technology or media platforms,” says Amanda Richman, senior VP and group director of strategy development and innovation at MediaVest USA. “You need to approach everything in a fresh way that consistently puts consumer thinking at the core.”
Chris Boothe, president and chief activation officer at Starcom USA, is very sure that nothing is “for sure” anymore.
“The rules are not written, they are being developed as we move along,” he says. “Media is also becoming more and more accountable, specifically with the digital pieces, so any type of strong analytical building blocks mixed in with a risk-taking mindset and a good skill set make for an ideal media person.”
And that's not an environment that's easy for everyone. Media folks daring enough to plunge into unfamiliar territory—whatever's best for a specific client—will by default emerge as tomorrow's leaders.
Agencies aren't waiting around in the hopes of someday finding these people. Instead, many agencies are actively training employees in multiple media types. A few agencies are cycling employees through various departments. And some are embedding people with online experience into traditional media departments, and vice versa.
The idea, says Media-Vest's Richman, is to expose everyone within an agency to every type of media.
“There will always be a need for specialists, whether it's in traditional television, radio or digital,” she says. “But there's more of an opportunity to create generalists. I see growth opportunity for people who can cross platforms and have a skill set that is nonlinear in the way they think and approach problems.”
That's easier said than done for many media people, particularly those who have spent many years working in one medium.
But recruiters are advising anyone who wants to continue growing—and earn raises and promotions—to step out of the pack by taking a leadership role while learning as much as possible about emerging media.
“If there's any way to attend seminars or shadow someone in the interactive department, you need to do it,” says Patricia Sklar, president of recruiting firm Sklar & Associates, who also advises reading trade magazines to remain up-to-speed on the changing media landscape. “You can also learn from sales reps, because I don't think there are reps anymore selling just one medium.”
O'Hare from O'Hare & Associates underscores the importance of taking risks. “Right now, there's a tremendous amount of experimentation going on,” he says. “The people who are willing to get out there with the client's blessing, and experiment and try new things, are really going to have a leg up.”