Attracting the best talent into the NI ad business

Helen Blakley IPA Chair for Northern Ireland, and MD, Genesis

IPA Chair for Northern Ireland and Genesis MD, Helen Blakley delivered a speech outlining her two-year leadership agenda to attract the best talent into the NI ad business.

Many thanks, Valerie for your introduction and a huge thanks for all your hard work and commitment over the last four years in leading the 'Value of Advertising' Agenda in your capacity as IPA Chair for NI. I’ve some big boots to fill.

Hello everyone and it’s great to see so many here this evening from across the IPA agencies – and slightly scary to think it was four years ago since we last were together for this event.

I’m delighted that tonight we have members of the IPA team with us (Tom, Sara and Sonja) and I would like to extend a warm welcome to our guest speakers:

  • Richard Aldliss, MD of McCann Manchester and IPA Chair for England & Wales
  • Ciara Madden, UU CAM graduate and soon to be part of the Genesis team
  • Bridgeen Rea-Kaya, Immeasurable Minds

I’m also pleased to say that we are joined tonight by some of the students and lecturer, Fiona McMahon, from the Ulster University CAM course. A course that Bridgeen, Fiona and I, along with Julie from Krow, started together 30 years ago in September coming!

When I was thinking about the theme for my talk tonight, I was struck by a single truth which is rooted in my 25 years+ of working experience – on both the client side, in Diageo and IKEA, and on the agency side with Genesis, and working alongside our clients and partners.

The best organisations and the people within them, are those who embrace the opportunities that are either given to them or they create, in order to continually develop themselves. That’s what sets them apart. That’s what underpins their success.

Helen Blakley IPA Chair for Northern Ireland, and MD, Genesis

So tonight I want to reflect on how being part of an IPA agency can help support that continual development and what this can mean to you.

I’ve been involved with the IPA from when I first joined Genesis in 2001, starting as a user of the extensive resources, training and support and in more recent years as part of the IPA NI Heads of Agency Group. A forum where we come together as like-minded agencies to discuss issues and areas affecting our businesses and people and look for ways to move these forward.

So I’m now privileged to be appointed to the role of NI Chair and look forward to being our local voice within the wider IPA community, and with the rest of the agencies here, supporting and driving forward locally the 'People First' agenda launched by IPA President, Josh Krichefski.

We say 'People First' because we are after all a people business. The four walls in which we operate doesn’t matter. Success is about the quality of our people because the processes, our ways of working and ultimately the quality of our outputs all flow from the quality of our people.

That’s why the IPA NI local agenda for the next two years will be focussed on our 'people and talent', and we will work within the framework that Josh has created so it is aligned across the UK.

So we’re going to focus on 3 key themes:

  1. Attracting the best talent – 'opening eyes'
  2. Retaining & Nurturing talent – 'opening hearts'
  3. Looking after the wellbeing of everyone by empowering, supporting and prevention – 'opening minds'

'Opening Eyes' – and attracting the right talent

Our industry has changed dramatically over the last 10-15 years, and in particular, has accelerated in development over the last 5 years with:

  • the growth of digital and how this has integrated into our businesses and changed & enhanced what we do
  • the continual drive for effectiveness and performance
  • the changing perception of what we do – the positive movement from being seen as suppliers to valuable business partners, who through collaboration with our client teams can help transform and add value to their businesses – whether that’s encouraging societal change, driving economic development, or enabling sales growth, to name but a few.

This development has also provided many opportunities, which as a local industry we have grasped, expanding our footprint in terms of geographical markets and services, and as a result it has developed the roles, specialisms and opportunities for the people within and coming into our agencies. But to allow us to continue to develop and grow further in the future, we need to have a pipeline of talent coming through and also be opened-minded about where this may come from.

We’re a relatively small market and as we all know, the current recruitment market is very competitive and at times limited for more specialist roles in particular – and this shortage is not only affecting our sector but is across the board including for our client teams. So we need to 'future-proof' our pipeline by creating awareness and a positive perception of our industry as a viable profession and attractive option for those at the start of their career planning journey.

Over the years we’ve come a long way in terms of professionalising our industry, supported by the IPA and CPD programme, so this is about building upon that great work.

Helen Blakley IPA Chair for Northern Ireland, and MD, Genesis

After discussion with the rest of the Agency Heads, we’ve agreed a programme of activity that will help support this, with some highlights as follows:

  • The first initiative is the IPA’s Advertising Unlocked scheme, the largest UK industry-wide 'open day', where we’ll welcome the next generation of talent from local schools and colleges. This year it is taking place on Wednesday 15 November, and we will demonstrate how campaigns are made, what it’s like to work in advertising, get students to be involved by working on a brief and also importantly have some fun doing it. Last year one agency here, ASG & Partners, was matched with a school and I’m delighted to confirm that this year four of our five IPA agencies will be opening their doors to local students. I know from speaking with Valerie that one of the students involved from last year is subsequently coming in for work placement, demonstrating how this one event can spark an interest and start to foster a passion in what we do.
  • Another avenue for our talent pipeline is our universities and in particular Ulster University with its courses, whether that be arts, marketing communications or business, which are aligned to help bring and make future talent ready to take that step into our businesses.
  • We will all continue to support the PANI Student Education Programme, bringing together students from the Art College and CAM for a nine-week programme where they are mentored by their sponsored agency to create and develop a ‘pitch’ presentation, with the winning campaign coming to market. This year’s campaign is for The Lawrence Trust, which supports men and their families living with eating disorders. I wish each of the student teams all the best for their presentations happening this coming Monday.
  • We are also committed to supporting and recognising those students who are excelling in their studies, with the sponsorship of prizes at the Ulster University School of Communication end-of-year Awards. It gives us an opportunity to connect with students and reward and congratulate those who are have achieved success, with the hope of inspiring them to continue their career in our sector. Ciara is a perfect example of this - having won the Genesis sponsored First Year Advertising Prize in 2020 and is now about to join the Genesis team. Shortly, you’ll hear from Ciara on what has helped shape her decision to enter our industry and is important to her and her peers as they embark upon their career.
  • I know from feedback received from lecturers and the students themselves, they really value getting the opportunity to understand how their studies can be brought to life with industry case studies and experience, so as an IPA NI Group we are committed to supporting this with guest lectures, industrial placements where possible, and to having an ongoing open dialogue and connection with the local institutions and its students.

We also recognise that there is an opportunity to better explain and communicate the extensive and diverse range of roles and opportunities across our sector, so over the next 6-12 months we will look at creating some content to help address this.

'Opening Hearts' – retaining and nurturing talent and ensuring that everyone we attract feels like they belong in our industry

As an industry we need to ensure that diversity – across all parameters - along with equality are in place and over time reflect on how we are progressing against this. This is not specific to our sector and reflects how society is changing as a whole, but to quote Josh from his inaugural Speech, it is so important for us as divergent thought powers creativity

As IPA agencies, continuous professional development is a core commitment that we make as part our membership (and does set us apart from other non-IPA agencies here) and it fuels a virtuous circle that benefits our people, our work, our clients and our businesses. I do think that we have an opportunity to better ‘sell’ and bring this to life for those who are coming into our industry and for our team who are part of the future. In addition to what we do individually as agencies, each person here has paid membership of the IPA and access to the fantastic resources, training (with even more delivered virtually now) and support that it offers – tapping into a network of professionals and the wider UK advertising industry – and the more we use it, the greater the benefit it will bring.

We also understand the power that L&D. Whether that be formal training, on-the-job experience, mentoring or self-learning, it can have on a person’s professional and personal development including their drive to keep evolving.

I am delighted to say that I have seen first-hand how this support has helped nurture and support many of our team in Genesis and helped them progress and move up to now take on roles of managers and leaders and help develop the next generation coming through.

Helen Blakley IPA Chair for Northern Ireland, and MD, Genesis

As a group, we will continue to support our own L&D programmes, but have also agreed to focus on a number of initiatives in this area including:

  • Committing to members of our team completing the IPA Diversity and Inclusion Essentials Certificate – which through nine modules gives a deep understanding of the challenges we need to overcome and the behaviours we need to change for a more diverse and inclusive advertising industry. I know from our discussions that those that have completed it, have found it a very beneficial resource.
  • For those joining or new to our industry, completing the IPA Foundation Certificate or accessing the learning materials to gain an essential overview and grounding in of all areas of advertising.
  • Promoting and encouraging the achievement of IPA MIPA status by our teams. In 2016 the IPA launched this personal membership scheme as they wanted individual Advertising Practitioners to be viewed on the same footing as Architects, Engineers and Lawyers. It provides the opportunity to enhance your professional credentials in the eyes of clients and industry peers and endorses your commitment to learning and development. We’ve already got some MIPA members here in NI but it’s an opportunity to increase that number further and celebrate those that achieve it.

Again we recognise that there is an opportunity to better communicate the diverse range of talent across our sector and how our teams are developing through a supportive environment and CPD. So over the next 6-12 months we will look at creating some content to help address this.

In the meantime, I wanted to highlight some forthcoming IPA training that may be of interest:

  • On 27 June, the IPA The 3rd Age of Effectiveness webinar will challenge the narrative that creativity is declining and digital is the culprit. This session will examine the big shifts in advertising effectiveness in a digital era, where we can blend what we know works with a new way of thinking.
  • The IPA Media Planning & Strategy Summit is taking place on 13 September, bringing together the UK's brightest and best media planning brains to provide learnings that will help inform, inspire and encourage future media planning.
  • And don’t forget to check out the IPA Talent & Diversity Hub which provides clear guidance and inspiration on how to foster a real sense of inclusion for the incredible talent that makes up our industry, as well as the work we create for our clients.

With over 30 years in the industry, I’m delighted that tonight we are joined by Richard Aldiss, MD of McCann Manchester and IPA Chair for England and Wales, who will be giving us an insight into his personal journey in our industry and what he believes this industry can offer for those working in it.

'Opening Minds’ - supporting the positive mental health and wellbeing of our people by empowering, supporting and being proactive in the management of our teams

There are many factors, including those outside of work life, which affect and influence mental well-being, making it a very complex area. Notwithstanding the fact that we’ve all lived and worked through the pandemic - which did provide us with opportunities and (accelerated) new ways of thinking & working but also presented some challenges. Thankfully we’re out the other end of it but its impact is still with us all, in one way or another. Plus, whilst our creative environment does provide us with that buzz and excitement, as service providers and client partners, we all operate at pace with a need to deliver both for our clients and internally on an ongoing basis, so this can have an impact across the board too. I know from discussions with the other Agency Heads that we’ve all got some great work already underway to create a work environment that fosters a more positive mental well-being, but it will be brought even more to the fore as we move forward.

There are many ways that we can do this – big and small and personally, within our team, agency and as an industry as a whole - including:

  • Ensuring there is clarity in roles and deliverables
  • Supporting with relevant training and creating the culture of continual development
  • Promoting a culture of mentoring and peer support
  • Encouraging openness and dialogue in this area
  • Identifying and anticipating where there may be workplace stressors
  • Providing appropriate support and interventions for those requiring it
  • Fostering the development of inclusive workplace cultures

As agencies we all have a level of resource and support in place for this, but I pleased to say that the IPA has committed to bolstering this further by creating a Resource Hub to support a New Era of Workplace Mental Health and champion this as an industry as a whole. It will contain, in one online location, all the best resources, training courses and toolkits to support member agencies and their teams. So more good stuff to come in this area.

And I would like to take the opportunity to highlight some IPA training which are already in place:

  • There is an IPA seminar taking place on 19 July which focuses on Imposter Syndrome – helping to identify and address negative thought and behaviour patterns that undermine your confidence and will help to provide you with some tools to challenge and overcome these beliefs.
  • Plus for those managing a team, there’s a useful IPA webinar taking place on 18 October on Recognising and Avoiding Burnout with information on how to put systems in place to proactively manage this.

I look forward to continuing to work alongside my fellow Heads of Agency, with the support of the IPA, to develop our people, agencies and industry as a whole.

Last updated 01 May 2024