Special Thanks to: Annie Yang, Michelle Tan
In the current age where the entire advertising industry in China is suffering from high labor costs and turnover rates, attracting young talents become one of the biggest challenges of almost every single agency. In this highly dynamic industry, especially the last two years when campaign budgets have slowed, the once simple and effective 'Buy Talents' strategy through offering high salaries no longer seems to work. Facing new industry trends of technology innovations, what becomes critical is how an agency can stand out by developing a sustainable talent structure, instead of one that merely places all importance on its high-profile senior members.
At the beginning of April this year, Damn Digital received an invitation from the DDB Shanghai office, inviting us to participate and understand in detail its special global internship program - LaunchPad for Future Bernbachs. Contents below are drawn from our direct observations and records.
What is LaunchPad for Future Bernbachs?
'LaunchPad' is a unique internship program at the international creative agency, DDB. It was first initiated by the DDB Sydney office successfully and introduced subsequently to the whole DDB worldwide network. The program targets young graduates or soon-to-be graduates, giving them the opportunity to receive guidance from the most experienced professionals of the agency and actually get involved in live client briefs and campaign activities. During the course of three months, the interns learn the basic process within the advertising business and gain significant real-world ad experience. At the end of the internship, their performances were evaluated by their mentors, and official job offers are made eligible to them depending on their performance and vacancies. During the internship, DDB offers inspiration sessions every week, and the management team gets involved to listen in on the creative briefs being worked out by the interns on a regular basis.
According to DDB, LaunchPad is designed to help new graduates to close the gap between theoretical knowledge and agency practices, and to build a strong portfolio before committing to a full-time career. In turn, DDB will also benefit from having fresh ideas from the young talents, and increase the chance of discovering future creative leaders. Another important benefit for DDB through this initiation is that the agency will be able to dispel untrue stereotypes about working at an agency, and establish a favorable brand reputation among new graduates who can easily get lost among excessive choices of brands and agencies.
At the beginning of 2013, DDB Shanghai office started to prepare for the launch of the program. The interns who were chosen to participate in the LaunchPad internship program were honored with a unique and appropriate nickname- Future Bernbachs. After all the name comes from one of the founders of DDB, who is one of the most lauded creative of the industry.
Michelle Tan, Director of Communications and Knowledge Management, DDB China Group, emphasized that 'DDB China is an agency with true creative spirit. We sincerely hope, through the program, we can bridge the gap between student and professional creative, and at the same time show our commitment for the future development of the creative industry as a whole. By taking part in the three-month internship, the interns will be able to understand the reality of the industry beyond the surface and they get to consider whether the advertising industry is the right place for them to pursue their dreams. We allocate the most experienced staff as their mentors, where each mentor takes care of two interns at the most, thus ensuring every intern getting sufficient guidance at DDB.
The program also reflects how much we value our people and how much we devote towards nurturing talent - we also encourage our permanent staff and interns to constantly develop themselves. In general, intensive high-quality training, real working experience and brief simulations create valuable opportunities to communicate with senior managements, along with the more relaxed Sparks Sessions, that enable LaunchPad to be truly differentiated among various internship programs. It can be regarded as the first program of its kind within the industry.'
Group photo of Future Bernbachs and key Shanghai leaders.
Why introduce the LaunchPad?
Amir Kassaei, Chief Creative Officer of DDB Worldwide, said in one previous interview with Damn Digital:
'With increasing pressure around cost combined with the competitive talent landscape, we are noticing real opportunities to look beyond the expected skill sets and traditional schooling when recruiting. It is important to recognize the shift in the industry with regards to scope of work so we don't exclusively target the traditional background. I'm not interested in hiring people who can only win awards. The best creative is the person who is able to use skills, knowledge of existing technologies, and insights to solve a business problem in an intelligent way. As an industry, we also need to focus our investment - as a priority - on significant talent development programs... so perhaps to take a chance on someone brilliant with unexpected training and education next time you hire, and while you're at it, make the decision to invest in their development.'
In short, it is important to invest a reasonable budget in talented people, who are capable of helping the agency stay ahead with the rapidly changing industry landscape. Wenhai Li, Chief Talent Officer of GroupM China, also mentioned in his interview that investing in future talents is on one hand required by the need of covering high annual employee turnover and business growth, and more importantly on the other hand, to grow a strategic talent pool. The so-called 'strategic' implies in 'not only to satisfy clients' short-term needs but also be prepared for any possible new challenge raised in future.'
It's worth mentioning that, in most interviews with those lauded creative leaders in China and abroad, they all tend to admit their awareness of the low possibility that one can always keep up with the times and technology trends. Therefore, developing new creative talents has become a necessity for almost every agency, including DDB Shanghai.
After the internship, every Future Bernbach will be awarded a Certificate of Participation, and those interns who had distinguished performance may also obtain a reference letter from DDB senior management. (See picture in Chinese version)
Recruitment and Evaluation Criteria
For an agency with more than 50 years of history like DDB, it certainly sets a high standard for the young 'Future Bernbachs'. All mentors are required to complete an evaluation form consisting of multiple dimensions to score the intern on being a 'creative thinker', 'problem solver', 'relationship builder' and 'sponge', etc.
In order to understand the initial expectations of the mentors towards the 'Future Bernbachs', two members of DDB Management were interviewed:
Nic Brennan, Group Creative Director (the third from right hand-side, first row, in pic 1)：
'...their creativity, ability to generate ideas, learning capability, communication skills and the most importantly, their passion...'
Jimmy Lam, Vice Chairman and Chief Creative Officer, DDB Group North China:
'...be very curious, be eager to learn, be positive and sensitive. The university is where one just waits to be taught. Here, one has to be self-motivated to learn...'
Consistent with what Amir has said, a relevant academic background is not compulsory in the LaunchPad program, but 'initiative' and 'desire to learn' are.DDB China Group received 416 resumes in total from various universities, including Shanghai University, East China Normal University, Tongji University, Shanghai Lixin University, Shanghai Art & Design Academy, Shanghai University of Science and Technology, Shanghai Jiaotong University and China Academy of Art, among which about one out of seven candidates were invited for interviews and 32 of them were finally recruited. These interns became the first batch of 'Future Bernbachs', who came from different tiers of cities in China as well as abroad, but very interestingly, most of them are girls! As of press, 8 Future Bernbachs have signed contracts to officially work for DDB.
Future Bernbachs and Senior Management of DDB Shanghai and DDB Global, enjoying the food from their major client McDonald's.
As a critical part of the LaunchPad, DDB Shanghai office held 'Sparks Sessions' every Wednesday before the close of work, where experienced advertisers from the DDB Shanghai office or even from other global offices provided training to all the Future Bernbachs. After every Sparks Session, colleagues from the Communications and Knowledge Management team distributed evaluation forms to collect feedback from the interns, which were then considered as valuable references for future improvement of the sessions. The reporter was honored to have attended two Sparks Sessions given by Nic Brennan, Group Creative Director, and Patrick Rona, President of Tribal DDB Asia Pacific and Chief Digital Officer of DDB Group Asia-Pacific. Both presentations included valuable contents, and the one given by Patrick even turned out to be prepared for his speech at this year's Adfest. However, during Nic's presentation, where he shared 10 TVC advertisements, possibly because it was the very first Sparks Session or due to language barriers, little interaction was generated between the audiences and the speaker. The issue of the language barrier was solved when it came to Patrick's Sparks session by providing bilingual interpretation throughout the presentation. While the contents were also communicated more clearly, the level of interaction remained relatively low. Concerning this, Patrick believed it was because the 'Big Topic' he set scared the young graduates, but he also expressed his optimism: 'There are various levels of interaction. I really hoped they were listening carefully to what I was sharing before they raised any questions. I value interactions of this kind a lot. I also believe many of those who didn't raise any questions during my Sparks Session will come and talk to me later or tomorrow.'
'Seen from the survey, Sparks is one of the most well received parts of the program. Senior management are usually very busy, but have they have taken the time to participate and answer all questions,' Said Michelle, 'Even if they don't get to join DDB in the future, the program offers them a unique and memorable first experience in the advertising industry. That is key for us.'
Wenhai Li told the reporter that the average turnover rate of talents for the industry is about 30%, which is still considered high even in the service sectors. Though it is difficult to tell merely from the first round of practice, the introduction of LaunchPad in China is indeed a big step for DDB's initiative of nurturing future talents.
To quote Amir Kassaei on the issue of investing in future talents, which also echoes the opening words of this report:
'Meaningful talent development needs to start at the top of the organization. It is our responsibility as an industry to grow and shape our young talent into creatively brilliant leaders of tomorrow's advertising landscape. Our creative leaders have the duty to guide, educate and lead by living up to the high standards that we have internally. We're not only required as an industry to train and educate young talent, but we also need to have programs and initiatives in place to develop our creative leaders. That's the only way to develop a culture where humanity and creativity are the foundations of innovation.'
鸣谢Annie Yang / Michelle Tan @DDB
在2013年初，DDB上海办公室着手将该计划在初次在中国落地，而进入上海办公室的LaunchPad实习生们还有一个特别光鲜的代称："Future Bernbachs"。Bill Bernbach是DDB的创始人之一，同时也是业界共知的创意巨匠。
"随着资金上压力的增加以及越发激烈的人才竞争， 我们不能只考虑现阶段所需的专业技能和教育背景，而要想的更远。如今我们的工作中所涉及的领域越来越广，因此我们不能只盯着传统的专业背景。我不倾向于雇用那些拿奖专业户。 真正的创意人是那些有能力利用所学技能，结合有限的科技， 加上自己对行业的理解的洞悉，真正意义上解决商业难题的。 作为一个行业，我们需要关注投资的对象，把人才发展项目列为首要任务。...... 也许下一次聘请新兵的时候，遇到一位各方面都出色的人选， 或许他的专业背景不是我们所需的，或许他没有很出彩的学历，请给他一个机会吧！你的投资将使他们的未来更好地发展。"
对于DDB这间年逾半百的创意老店来说，他们对这群初出茅庐的"未来广告大师"们的要求还真不低，每位带领Future Bernbachs的导师（mentor）在实习期结束后都会被要求填写一张包括"富有创意"、"问题解决者"、"关系建立者"、"博学者"等指标的评价表格，进行综合打分。那么这些"mentors"当初对将成为"Future Bernbachs"的年轻人都抱着怎样的期许呢？我们访问了DDB上海的两位管理层：
DDB上海集团创意总监 Nic Brennan：
如Amir所说，专业背景在LaunchPad项目中并不成为必选项，主观能动性与学习意愿成为首要标准。本次DDB中国从包括上海大学、华东师大、同济大学、立信会计学院、上海美术艺术学院、上海理工大学、交通大学、中国美院以及美国密歇根州立大学、悉尼大学、伦敦大学皇家霍洛威学院，以及伦敦艺术大学中央圣马丁艺术与设计学院中一共收取了416份简历，大约有1/7的申请者进入面试，最终录取一共32位来自中国各线城市以及海外的应征者----有趣的是绝大部分都是女生----成为了DDB上海第一期Future Bernbachs。在截稿前，这一期Future Bernbachs中有8人成为DDB上海的正式员工。Future Bearnbach和DDB上海与全球的领导层，他们手里拿的麦当劳是该公司的重要客户
作为LaunchPad培训计划中的重要一部分，DDB上海在每周三临下班前会请本公司、中国区乃至全球的资深广告人为Future Bernbach们进行名为"Spark Session"的培训。每次培训后企业传播部门的同事将会回收事先发放的表格，评估培训效果并依此着手改进。笔者旁听了两场Spark Session，分别由Nic Brennan与Tribal DDB亚洲主席Patrick Rona 担任演讲嘉宾。两位准备的内容分量相当重，Patrick更是提前拿出为亚洲广告节准备的演讲稿分享。不过在在Nic关于十则视频广告的分享时，也许因为这是第一次Spark Session，也许是因为Nic事后自己也承认的"语言壁垒"，在座的同学极少与演讲者互动。"语言壁垒"问题在Patrick的Spark Session得到了解决----现场安排了中英翻译，演讲本身也更具激情，不过提问与互动状况仍然只是稍有改善。对此Patrick表示可能是因为他有一个 "Big Title"吓到了"小朋友们"，不过他也非常乐观的说到："沟通互动存在非常多的层级。首先我非常希望他们在认真倾听，然后才向我提问，我非常珍视这种互动。而且我相信很多在现场没有举手的同学，会在会后或者明天来与我交流。