How Agencies in Hong Kong Hire, Develop and Retain Staff

Since start of the pandemic, brands and agencies have had to pivot to create experiences for their audiences under government imposed restrictions, maximizing the influence and awareness of their campaigns or marketing efforts. Previously, INTERACTIVE-MARKETING spoke to agency practitioners about their plans amid the fifth wave of the pandemic, with some saying allowing employees to work from home and limiting work hours to avoid peak hours were some- one of the ways to protect them and maintain their morale.

Amid the lockdown, when digital interactions are expected to remain at an all-time high, several brands have turned to hybrid events to ensure their marketing efforts stay on track. This has forced agencies to become even more agile to better meet customer needs. Therefore, new skills training is underway, according to industry professionals MARKETING-INTERACTIVE spoke to.

Matt Hofmeyer, managing director of Wavemaker Hong Kong, said there was a significant increase in the number of customers asking for help prioritizing tasks among the huge volume of data, information and deliverables. With changing expectations, agencies need to identify the tasks that will have the most impact on clients.

Hofmeyer joined as managing director in mid-March 2022 to replace Stanley Ngai. Hofmeyer has worked for Wavemaker for approximately two decades, playing an instrumental role in developing longstanding customer partnerships with Mitsubishi Motors, the Government of South Australia, Bridgestone, UniSA and South Australian Tourism.
“I have also seen a huge increase in the need for empathy and compassion. Both challenges can be met by asking better questions and improving our listening skills. These are the steps to help us understand ourselves and the unique challenges that each of us faces,” he said.

Under the new normal, the methods people used before could be obsolete, added Gordon Domlija, CEO of Wavemaker Asia Pacific. As the pandemic has brought system shock, accelerated digitalization and the collapse of decades of uniformly globalized ways of working, clients are now looking for leadership and guidance. He added:

Past behaviors and performance matter little in the new world.

Domlija said that while agencies may not have all the answers to what the future holds, they can equip themselves to better navigate uncertainty by creating a rigorous analytical process, simplifying data complexity and empowering their staff to develop sound viewpoints. “This is how we can partner effectively with our customers. We need to work collaboratively as one team to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow,” he explained.

What skills are agencies looking for?

As customer expectations have evolved, agencies and their employees need a new perspective to help brands succeed and thrive. Hofmeyer said agencies seek employees with multiple skills, including critical thinking and the ability to assess situations, as well as communication skills. He explained that when employees need to communicate with external parties, especially when they need to talk on the phone, better communication skills can go a long way in increasing human connection.

Other skills employees need to possess include empathy and compassion, as agencies need to ensure they put people first. “I hope to have employees who have curiosity and energy because they need to overcome the reduced learning potential [in the new world] by proactively seeking out new knowledge – especially where it doesn’t match your current point of view,” Hofmeyer said. New and existing agency practitioners are also advised to know their personal boundaries and prioritize self-care activities to avoid burnout.

While it’s important to cultivate new skills, Domlija says the basics are still a key part of the industry. “The skills I always look for are attitude and aptitude. The hard skills in our job are easy to teach and master, but the point of differentiation is applying what you know to ask questions, challenge conventions and develop a point of view that evolves who we are and what we do as an agency.”

Tips for developing staff

With more challenges in the marketing industry and growing demand from brands, agencies need to have a team of capable practitioners to deliver work that impresses. Erin Hung, senior manager and head of the training committee at Golin Hong Kong, said the agency offers a wide variety of training programs to its employees, as flexibility is at the heart of the agency’s training approach. .

“We’ve developed customizable pivot tables of over 90 lessons from external trainers, internal experts, and LinkedIn Learning. Employees can choose the training programs that work best for them, as well as how, where, and when to self-developing sales, crisis management, personal branding and Photoshop,” she said.In addition to the programs organized by the agency, Golin Hong Kong has also launched an initiative allowing employees to choose what they consider valuable, such as language courses, masterclasses and mindfulness programs.

Additionally, the agency also sponsored its VP Carol Yeung to learn sustainable business strategy at Harvard Business School, enabling her to advise clients and share her knowledge with teams.

Kenix Lai, commercial director of Wavemaker Group Hong Kong, said her agency has focused on both hard and soft skills. “To develop our professional skills, our team focused on strategic planning skills and proprietary tools, regular trainings co-facilitated by key partners such as Google and Meta, e-commerce and email marketing .”

She added that Wavemaker Hong Kong had created a series of local communication skills videos, providing day-to-day, practical advice on communicating effectively with colleagues, customers and partners.

“We also try to develop leadership skills through our reverse mentoring program, connecting our seniors and juniors, and the ‘Walk the Talk’ workshop for our female leaders. The program is an in-depth coaching program enabling senior women to think about how they can grow personally and professionally,” Lai added.

Staff retention

Previously, INTERACTIVE-MARKETING indicated that higher compensation offered elsewhere and a lack of learning and development opportunities to upgrade the skills of current employees were among the top three reasons for the skills shortage in the region. Over the past two years, as employees have learned new skills, they are more capable and more competitive because they have in-demand skills. However, Hofmeyer believes that retaining staff will not be more difficult in the future, adding:

Wavemaker Hong Kong only retains people when it is in their interest to stay.

He explained that the role of the agency is to partner with its employees on their career development, helping them prepare for their next role in their role at work or in life. “But after the pandemic, I think developing their talents in a flexible workplace will be the bare minimum that our employees will expect.”

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