‘Brain drain’ returns to marketing sector

Marketing job ads are down 25 percent year-on-year, according to the BNZ/Seek Employment Report for July, but suitable candidates are still hard to find for many roles. We look at how the opening of the border is affecting recruitment in the marketing sector, while examining other trends.

“Steady.” That’s how Annie McCulloch and Carolyn (Caro) Armstrong of Gather Creative Recruitment describe the recruitment market for the creative sector: while it’s not as buoyant as previous it continues to be steady, with neither a huge number of roles nor candidates available overall. One trend immediately jumps out when you talk to them. 

“Obviously Covid had a big impact,” Caro says. “The minute the border opened, there was a flurry of people who left. With the recent changes to visa conditions in the UK this will likely continue. I had a client this morning tell me two of their staff have resigned, to move to Australia, so it is very much still the case.”

This trend is having a significant impact particularly on intermediate-level roles, making it more of challenge to find the ideal candidate. Caro says: “We’re working with our clients closely and are thinking more broadly to consider those who may not ordinarily fit the brief. While an employer can have a list of requirements for their perfect candidate, in the current market it’s not as straightforward to find someone who ticks every box.”

Employers are having to consider their retention strategies to keep their existing staff. “Gone are the days of ‘here’s what we’re looking for’; it needs to be balanced with ‘here’s what we offer’ as well,” Caro says. “One of the main requests we hear is for hybrid working. As much as a lot of our clients want their teams back in the office, many candidates we speak to are now used to remote/hybrid working. Of course, there are two sides to consider here and pros and cons on both sides.”

Annie says there now needs to be more than just a salary on offer from employers. “Work-life balance is something that’s been bandied about for a long time but now more than ever it needs to be genuine from the employer’s point of view. Trusting your staff reaps rewards. There will always be some people who take advantage, but it’s about how culture is developed within the business. If you have a trust culture, generally you get it back.”

Although the exodus of young Kiwis is being countered with near-record levels of immigration (net migration rose to 86,800 in the year to June), this isn’t necessarily plugging the recruitment gaps. Annie, who focuses mainly on design and creative roles, says relevant design experience is key. “Aotearoa’s design industry has such a strong aesthetic and while it is quite broad, when we see a designer from somewhere else in the world, their work has to align to some degree to the work that’s being done here. There are people arriving from around the world with incredible talent, it’s just about getting them into the right kinds of roles.”

Vanishing comms candidates

Similar trends are reported in the communications and PR space. Margot Keegan, of specialist recruitment consultancy Little Black Book, says the market for those types of roles has also shifted considerably in the past few years. “Five years ago, I used to have so many amazing candidates on my books and the challenge was to try and find those amazing candidates jobs. Now it’s been a complete 180 and we’re in a job-rich, candidate-short market in my sector. I’ve got lots of great roles; what I’m finding incredibly difficult is finding people, particularly at the intermediate level.”

Margot says she is “spoiled for choice” when recruiting at the senior level for roles of $150,000 and up, with lots of good candidates looking for work. However, it is “incredibly tough” to find suitable candidates for PR and comms roles up to $120,000, particularly in the $75,000-$90,000 range. “The world has opened up after the last few years and a lot of people at that age and stage are now finally being able to go overseas and do their OE. A lot of them are gone,” she says.

“Also, there’s less inclination for people to take risks now. I used to be able to pick up the phone and headhunt people and convince them to move fairly easily, but now people are less inclined to take risks with their careers. I used to be able to write a good job ad and get a great response, but now I don’t get the numbers and I don’t get the quality, so I have to go about my role a lot differently, have to really search and headhunt.”

Although she hasn’t seen any noticeable shift in salaries in the past couple of years, Margot says employers are making up for it with more flexible working conditions, with many in the sector working more than half the week from home. “The first thing I’m asked is: ‘What’s their philosophy regarding working from home?’ I’ve had one role in the past 18 months that didn’t have any working from home option – it was a senior marketing role and I spoke to probably over 100 marketers and none of them would even look at it.”

Margot says the mix of roles is also changing, with increasing demand for internal communications roles as organisations continue to experience rapid change. “We are also seeing growth in customer communications roles. The hardest roles to fill are in media relations; it’s hard and it’s very reactive. You’re constantly putting out fires.”   

She has also found it hard to place new arrivals to New Zealand in marketing and communications roles. “My clients want that local market experience, particularly because a lot of the roles I place are media oriented. I get contacted by so many amazing candidates who are in New Zealand or want to move here, but whether it be conscious or unconscious, there is always a bias towards Kiwi candidates.”

Finding the right fit

Dominique Touchaud is one of those recent arrivals. Born and raised in the tiny French territory of Guadeloupe in the Caribbean, he has amassed more than two decades’ experience as a marketing leader, including 17 years in senior roles at global consumer goods giant Procter & Gamble across Europe, Latin America and Asia.

He moved to Auckland’s North Shore with his Kiwi wife Alexandra Munro and their three children last year, but the search for a suitable role has not been as easy as one would expect, given his extensive experience. “One of the things I found challenging at first was that I had no local networks. I was fortunate to have a very well-connected in-law who initially put me in touch with some people, but that was not enough to create a networking momentum in my industry community. As we stayed in Wellington to spend time with the in-laws, I did not find any marketing or management group I could join there to connect with my peers and get a feel for the market. It seems that networking there was more on a one-to-one basis.”

Dominique has worked with head-hunters and senior-level recruitment specialists, but he has come across some recurring roadblocks. To his surprise, his lack of “New Zealand experience” has proven to be a problem for some potential employers. “I may not come with New Zealand experience, but I have years of experience launching products in China and across Asia and Latin America, some of the major export markets for many Kiwi businesses,” he says. “If the role is advertised as global, that requirement might come as a surprise.”

He has also encountered preconceived ideas about him as a candidate, including what sort of role and salary he would be happy with, and how long he intends to stick around. “They may think I want too much money, am only passing or want an executive committee role, but we have chosen to relocate here for family reasons, and with the knowledge that the type of roles I would apply to before are mostly not based in Aotearoa. We’ve bought a house, our children are going to school here, we’re not going anywhere. It is more than we ever did in our expat assignments. I’ve even been told I’m overqualified for the market, even recommended on one occasion to ‘dumb it down’, which was a surprise.”

Dominique has made other observations as a newbie in the New Zealand job market. One is a challenge to translate the skills necessary to fulfill global roles focused on soft skills and marketing fundamentals to match and fit with domestic roles that seem to favour technical/skill-focused backgrounds. He also perceives the New Zealand market to be very focused on job title. “I don’t really care what my role is called; I care about what work the role actually involves. And I am confident there are many business challenges I can help with; I just need to find a way to get the door to open a bit.”    

About Niko Kloeten

Niko Kloeten is a Feature Writer/Sub-editor for SCG Media titles including NZ Marketing, StopPress, and Farmlander.

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