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Recruiting for publishers: Scoring with industry benefits

08-26-2013 05:38 PM CET | Media & Telecommunications

Press release from: SCHICKLER Personalberatung

Markus Boehler, Executive Search Consultant for Media, SCHICKLER

Markus Boehler, Executive Search Consultant for Media, SCHICKLER

Many candidates favor e-commerce start-ups and international players in the digital industry with strong brands. Publishers must make sure that they do not fall behind on the popularity scale and that they are not counted as a dying profession. "Very few top candidates shout 'here' when we approach them regarding jobs at publishing houses", says Markus Boehler, executive search consultant at SCHICKLER. Therefore many publishers need to catch up in terms of employer branding and recruiting. In an interview, Markus Boehler explains what measures publishers can take and how executive search consultants can help.

What arguments publishers should publishers use in the digital age?

Publishers have always been attractive employers. Regarding the digital age they can still score high – if they do it right: Publishers are not some random industry. Entire generations of people have used press products. As a fourth authority, the press is of high social importance, and in two respects it possesses a "hybrid function": Firstly, media are economic as well as cultural assets. Secondly, publishers get revenues from both the reader market and the advertising market – completely different markets that require different forms of marketing.

Due to the structural changes and the resulting changes in media use publishers become cross-media organisations and sell their services on all media channels. Being responsible for structural changes and the expansion of publishing brands, resulting in a cross-media portfolio of various print, online and mobile products, including events and services – this specific unique employer proposition of the publishing industry cannot be equalled.

What about corporate culture?

Working in a publishing house "feels different" from a bolt factory or an authority. Media products are special and so is the mix of employees: Creatives in newsrooms and editorial offices, product managers and marketers in the publishing lines, sales professionals in retail marketing, direct marketing or advertising sales – as well as speed-oriented controllers, down-to-earth printers and logisticians and, increasingly important, developers and IT managers. Publishers offer a variety of different occupations and provide for attractive positions. This results in a vibrant corporate culture that many people can identify with. Or in short: Once you have caught the publishing virus, it will not let you go.

What does digitization mean for the HR management of publishers?

As long as the content was tied to products that could be sold on the reader market and the advertising market, the world was still in order. The internet has fundamentally changed the world. The entire media industry is undergoing a structural change and publishers must be prepared, if they still want to play a role with users and advertisers in the future. The “free of charge”-culture on the internet threatens the traditional, highly profitable business models of publishers that have shaped generations of publishers’ structures and processes as well as the skills and the self-understanding of their employees.

Publishers need to develop new markets, business models and products that will result in new competencies, functions and positions. Traditional areas of responsibility in the areas of product development, product management and marketing – the work requirements in the editorial and the production departments, in sales marketing and advertising marketing – now differ significantly from those five or ten years ago. The duties and skills required will continually change. This presents new challenges to the HR management.

What does that mean?

Change management is a critical success factor in publishing houses, even for HR management. It must support the will to change and the ability to change on all levels of the workforce. Firstly, the existing workforce needs to be developed to meet the future requirements, frameworks and instruments have to be adjusted. On the other hand, it is increasingly important to establish attractive environments, jobs and development programs in order to to be successful in the "war for talent". Professional publishing HR needs to attract crossmedia experts. It needs to develop, maintain and maybe even regain them.

Compared to start-ups with a greenfield strategy, it is of particular importance for publishers how well they succeed in aligning new business models, structures, processes and people with the traditional publishing world. The theme of tradition must be interpreted correctly in change management processes. “Tradition is not preserving the ashes but fanning the embers.” This quote is attributed to Benjamin Franklin and I think it symbolizes the situation quite well. For HR management in a change process, this means that it must pay particular attention to which components of a publishing tradition are obstructive or even dangerous for further development and which components are vital for the proper glue between the people on the uncertain journey to new shores. This is also a cultural issue.

E-commerce and social media rarely have traditions.

Right. This aspect should not be underestimated as an employer feature. Publishers have a history. They stand for a certain corporate culture and values that – properly interpreted and lived – can provide identification and orientation. Many young professionals plunge into the digital economy which promises speed of growth and the particular coolness factor. If, however, the expected growth does not occur, if a company fails completely or investors lose interest, some start-up employees get frustrated and wonder why they have put so much energy into this flash in the pan. At this point publishers can score as employers – and they can use the expertise of digital natives. Publishers as well need to invest wisely in new business models and they too are ultimately dependent on profitability. But compared to start-ups, they have an existing business, usually a healthy balance sheet and a different corporate culture.

In reverse, can you use the media industry as a career springboard?

Of course. Look at direct marketing experts. If you have cracked the heavy nuts in publishing that the sales of subscriptions present – note: that means selling a "continuing obligation in advance" – and if you can thus rely on your expertise in number based campaign management, often on heavily digital channels, you are well qualified for related industries such as telecommunications, mail-order business or e-commerce. And that takes us back to the start-ups.

So what can be said against media companies as employers?

The risk of becoming infected and not getting away from the media industry anymore. No, seriously, of course, the changes in the media industry do cause skepticism. And not all publishers can handle the structural changes equally well. A changing industry seldom provides for secure jobs.

However, this is true everywhere, even in the digital world. From my perspective, there are many publishers that actively face the structural changes and position themselves better and better for the future. It is a challenging task to play an active role in the transformation and show sufficient sensitivity to maintain those values of publishers that are worth preserving. Such achievements count on a CV, and these skills are demanded by many employers. Putting a bag of money on a green meadow and then saying, "the idea came too early" or "the investors did not have enough patience" – everyone could do that (laughs).

How can publishers attract talent?

Publishers should get into contact with their prospective employees as early as possible and establish a relationship with them. Recruiters should be present at their target universities and the main industry events. Publishers also need to be visible in the relevant media and social networks, and they should strive to make the interaction with members active and interesting.

Retention and alumni programs for all target groups are just as important: Publishers should keep in touch with former interns as well as with interested high school or university students. At entry level, publishers should ideally offer several different trainee programs. That means in addition to a general management program, they should also maintain specialized traineeships, in marketing or sales, for example.

What about experienced professionals and executives?

The more experienced the candidates have to be, the more "Active Sourcing" is required, i.e. the active contacting of potential employees. A job ad by itself often does not lead to the desired result. Active sourcing can be described as direct marketing in recruiting. For many employers, however, it is still unusual to actively contact potential key members of staff.

How does active sourcing work?

It is important to have a clear idea of who and what you are looking for exactly from the very beginning. A concrete, not too restrictive target definition is the basis for a search profile. After that the following applies: Not every contact will be interested, not everyone who is interested will become a candidate, not every candidate will be a favorite, not every favorite will become an employee, not every employee will be a performer, and so on. Conversely, this logic means: In order to win enough performers, a sufficiently large number of contacts must be actively addressed. With the help of selection criteria, the selection can be refined, but you have to calculate with a critical minimum number of contacts in order to obtain a suitable selection.

What should you pay attention to when assessing candidates?

When assessing the skills of "digital candidates", we notice again and again how much the success of a candidate depends on the context, i.e. the actual work environment. Not every successful start-up manager is a good publishing manager - and vice versa.

It is often difficult to assess whether managers of digital business units have actually had an impact or if they just “rode the wave” for a while – this is also due to shorter tenures. In the digital domain, I often meet pure growth managers, with little potential for portfolio management or turnaround requirements in publishing. In this sense, it is critical that publishers are not dazzled by digital stars and their success stories, but that they pay attention to the extent a candidate can be effective in the publishing environment or whether the publisher can provide conditions in which digital "stars" can operate successfully. The environments are often still quite different.

The fluctuation in the media industry is high. What contributes to retention?

A very important point is the classic "human resources development". In upheaval it gains in importance. Publishers need frameworks and programs for leadership development, new employees must receive close mentoring by senior managers. Employees must be given promising perspectives, so that they can always opt for their current employer when they receive external offers. Usually employees of publishing houses are happy to work there. I get to hear that again and again.

Alumni networks are also part of retention. In this respect you can learn from universities and large consulting firms. Among other things, alumni programs help to regain former employees, with the special benefit that alumni bring experience and new ideas from outside to the publisher. Maintaining contacts starts very early and it has to last beyond the employment relationship. A reactivatable contact is always preferrable over a cold contact.

As top performers are required to invest a lot of time and energy into their work, work-life balance aspects have gained in importance as part of employee retention – be it measures that support care for children or elderly relatives, be it sabbaticals or flexible working time models. These retention programs are also a result of a functioning corporate culture and they shape the culture themselves

Many middle managers are hardly prepared for the digital challenges. What does this mean for staff development?

Most importantly, the employees must get the opportunity to develop along with the structural change. In short, it's about "learning". Again, publishers must actively create opportunities. It does not help to pack everything on-top or to require things that can only be results of development. Employees on all levels must receive sufficient space to participate in appropriate staff development programs, training opportunities or projects and to embed the experience in their work.

They need time to accept first digital tasks or perhaps be able to take a specialist sabbatical abroad. They must have the opportunity to interact with digital natives, they must be able to try out things and align their daily work. This can be fixed in target agreements. Moreover, failures are also part of learning as well as a culture of error. Organizational theory virtually demands: "Make mistakes! But makes them as early as possible! "

Last but not least, one should enable the employees to just have fun with new technologies by equipping them with popular gadgets with which they can play around in the best sense of the word. Just like with children, such toys function via "contagion". The investment in such equipment does not have to be more expensive than a seminar, including travel expenses.

Let us take a look at top executives. What can publishers do at an early stage – so that if necessary, the search for suitable candidates does not need to start anew each time?

One should not wait with the search until the house is on fire, for example when you want to start an investment or an executive leaves the company. Sometimes I recognize it in the voice of the client on the phone: "Mr. Boehler, we have been thinking about it for a long time, but we finally decided to take leave of XY. But we have to be very quick now because... ". Particularly at the level of the top leaders the market is very tight, competition is fierce and the top candidates can choose between offers.

Publishers must search for suitable candidates early by means of active sourcing. There are many possible ways - if applicable, anonymously with the help of headhunters who have access to such people via their networks. Against this backdrop, we support some publishers with permanent market scans, particularly with regard to positions that are regularly required or that are particularly difficult to fill. These market scans help to keep the candidate market transparent. They also show whether there are currently suitable candidates for a particular position, whether a longer search must be expected or, if applicable, the position needs to be changed in order to find appropriate candidates. In many cases, the ,new Messiah’ is faced with unrealistically high expectations, especially if the past was not very successful. All hopes - or problems - are often projected onto the new savior.

Many publishers have a highly professional HR management. Why would you need an executive search consultant?

An executive search consultant can support publishers in many areas of HR management. Publishing houses often lack capacities or competence in the identification or approach of candidates. Even if social networks have made it easier to get access to candidates: Expecially top candidates do not wish to be addressed by just anyone. Many are ,spammed’ with requests. As a result they are very sceptical towards recruiters approaching them. Others would not want to turn down an offer in direct contact with the company, especially because many people in the media industry know each other.

The other way round there are publishers who do not want to get rejected if they appeal to candidates themselves – that is similar to asking someone for the next dance. They ask their executive search consultant to present them only those qualified candidates who are definitely approachable. Finally, there are cases in which the current position holder does not yet know of his or her impending dismissal. In such a context, an executive search consultant can handle the matter anonymously, instead of the employer himself appearing on the market.

And after the first contact?

In the following stages of the recruiting process, the value of the executive search consultant is even higher: when it comes to evaluating the candidates. At this point the “consultant” in “executive search consultant” gains in importance. As an executive search consultant, I can provide a publisher with an external perspective. The publisher gets transparency regarding capabilities, competencies, salary levels and employer images on the candidate market. Executive search consultants evaluate candidates not only in relation to the position description, but always in relation to the candidate market.

Sounds like benchmarking.

Exactly. Like our corporate consulting colleagues, but referring to candidates. Therefore, we are asked for support not only when external candidates are searched for, but also when it comes to the assessment of internal aspirants. This is increasingly important in the context of structural change, when publishers need to assess their own staff with regard to new requirements. Publishers are usually not able to do that themselves. A colleague of mine once said, "What are consultants? Answer: visitors with a high travel experience." As visitors, we never have the same intense experiences with the staff, but we can well say what we notice about them – compared to the people we see at other companies. In this sense, executive search consultants can provide publishers with benchmarks and serve as sparring partners in the evaluation of employees.

The SCHICKLER consulting group – corporate consulting and executive search – is known as the leading consulting firm for media companies in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. From offices in Hamburg und Munich, about 50 employees work for the consulting group. Customers are companies of all types of media in Germany and abroad, from newspapers and magazines, online media and trade press to TV, radio, and corporate media. Other projects cover e-business, IT and insurance. In management consulting, Schickler is focused on advising companies regarding strategy and organization.

Corporate Consulting and Executive Search
Julia Schormann
Grosse Baeckerstr. 10
D-20095 Hamburg
+49 40 3766500

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