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‘Building a smart HR strategy for OOH’

By M4G Bureau - July 26, 2023

Dr Dwarika Prasad Uniyal, Pro Vice Chancellor, RV University, Bengaluru, takes a deep dive into the still waters of OOH talent pool and comes up with innovative ideas for human capital formation.

Dwarika prasadTalent war is everywhere and in the post-pandemic world, the issues of attracting, training, retaining good talent are among the most challenging tasks for any organisation. In a world of hyper segmentation and acute audience attention deficiency, brands are struggling to hold on to their core customers. Add the FOMO world of social and digital and we are ready for a heady cocktail. 

Against this background, one needs to objectively look at the various aspects of running an industry as complex and fragmented as the OOH industry. In the last decade or so with the advent of new technology, proliferation of mobile phones, cheap data and hyper social lives, somewhere the OOH media has lagged to catch up with new media. 

The industry has a unique set of challenges and one of them is identifying, attracting, training and retaining human resources. 

In my recent interactions with few industry veterans I got various insights:

  • It is a tough business and requires long unstructured hours of working 
  • A lot of work happens in rural and semi-urban areas 
  • Industry is hugely fragmented and there only few large corporates in this business 
  • Huge disconnect between brands, media owners and media agencies
  • OOH is not seen as a cool career option like it is in the digital and social media world
  • Lack of colleges providing specific courses on OOH media 
  • Lack of trained manpower at all levels 
  • As the industry talent pool is small, major players are engaged in poaching within the same pool
  • General lack of understanding of this medium 
  • Lack of training outfits for mid-career training  

So, I will focus on three major aspects:

1. Tackling the talent acquisition challenges (in view the industry’s relatively low visibility in the eye of the talent pool)

The nature of work has changed in the last 10 years and so have the career choices. Earlier students from BBA/BMS or even MBA colleges were keen to join sales and marketing jobs in FMCG or BFSI segments. Few would go to media and advertising and a few more would opt for new media. 

With E-Com and digital media exploding in the last 15 years, many new skills and new career choices emerged. This has left the print, TV and OOH segments as last choices among new graduates. Also, work hours are long, work requires travelling, working in rural or semi urban areas and compensatory packages at entry level is not quite attractive. So the combined effect of all these factors is that the industry is not able to attract good talent from good institutions. 

Also, as new media became mainstream even the course content started to reflect that but there is hardly any specialised course or training on OOH in any of the top media or advertising institutes. 

BBA or BCOM are very generic courses and at the maximum that they will have half is a credit course in 3-4 years. 

The placement committees look toward fintech, e-com, technology companies for the graduates to apply for jobs. Old FMCG companies are still hot, BFSI is losing its sheen and advertising and media giants are also finding it tough to get talent from the campus. Now in this background where would OOH companies go and find fresh talent, forget about finding trained talent in the discipline?

Most of the students are not even aware of OOH companies and very few would have done any internships in these firms. Add to certain perception factors about OOH. Hence, the first challenge for the OOH industry is to get into the mindspace of fresh talent at the colleges itself.

Few strategies :

  1. Visit campuses during college fests and offer OOH expertise during the time they need it.
  2. Offer short-term live projects and work with faculty on the same.
  3. Offer summer internships and give good stipend and a learning environment. 
  4. Many placement committees of good B schools need good companies on the roster to offer jobs to good students who somehow fail to get into top consulting or tech companies. This is a foot in the door for OOH in top B schools.
  5. Look for top BBA and BCom programmes and offer internships and jobs to fresh talent at the UG level and not wait till they obtain MBA degree.
  6. Participate in college fests or competitions by offering competitions and case studies; that way a large number of students will come to know about you.

2. Talent development needs (to be taken up at the industry level and by organisations)

OOH Industry suffers from myopia and never tries to train its mid-level talent fearing that they will leave. Problem occurs when they don't train and don't leave. Industry players need to think long term and start investing in talent even if some might shift to competition as they might come back to you. 

Talent needs to be trained in behavioural aspects, knowledge and domain aspects and practical issues. 

Industry needs to partner with platforms like OAC and co-create and co-deliver such short term management development programmes along with a reputed academic institutions.

While academics and credibility can be managed by the educational institute, curriculum and delivery can be managed by the industry experts ably curated by OAC.  

Long ago, Late AG Krishnamurthy thought of an institution for media and advertising industry which is now the famous MICA. 

The OOH industry cannot escape from its responsibility to create and nurture its talent pool. The larger macro players like universities and business schools can enable this but primary role has to be played by the OOH industry. 

3.Talent retention and creation of growth path for high performers

I think this requires a fundamental shift from how the industry sees itself and finds growth levers. It has to embrace new technologies and make use of AR/VR, AI led new age outdoor media properties and innovate at all the levels. Gone are the days when outdoor meant only hoardings at prime. The ambient media has evolved and now finds multiple layers across all platforms.

As the domain evolved, new challenges have also come up. The industry has to attract talent across sales, media, buying, planning, digital, AI, creative and storytelling. Better business and higher margins will enable the industry to offer competitive remuneration and retain top talent. 

I think OOH industry has to re-invent itself the way retail has with the advent of e-com and morphed into an omnichannel. Similarly OOH has to become omnichannel and become technology first. 

For that they have to junk old models, practices, mindsets and embrace new ideas and learn and copy from other businesses. 

OOH has to kill the old self in order to evolve and survive in a new world.  

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