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Omar Oakes 

Week in Media: education, education, education

Week in Media: education, education, education

Whether we work in the industry or not, media has become so influential in our everyday lives that we need more space for media training and education, writes the editor

The recent BBC documentary about Tony Blair and Gordon Brown was extraordinary for a number of reasons.

Were clothes in the 90s really as bad as that? Did ministers really resign from government over principle? Did Prime Ministers actually take pride in their appearance by using a hair comb sometimes?

While the Blair & Brown documentary was generally excellent, I was slightly disappointed not to see more reflection on "education, education, education". That Labour government made huge decisions around schooling, apprenticeships, and university education that are, when you think about it, one of the few broad areas that the Conservatives have not been aggressively dismantling since being in power since 2010.

For Blair to say his three priorities in government were "education, education, education" was effective because it communicated how important improving schools was as a basis for doing everything else he wanted to do. By improving people's life chances through a better education, the theory goes, you will improve equality of opportunity, make people generally more productive and happier, reduce crime, improve people's health, and so on.

The same principle should apply to media, in my views, particularly for three cohorts of people that live within and outside the bubbles of commercial media, journalism and marketing.

More demands require more training in agencies

As I've written about for many months now, the commercial media industry has found itself in a talent crisis. Frankly, many companies completely overreacted last year by cutting too quickly in response to the pandemic crisis last year by making redundancies and sending people out on furlough.

One agency confidant described this to me last week as "easily" the biggest corporate misjudgement in recent times. Too many companies are now chasing ready-made talent as they seek to bounce back quickly and fulfil advertiser demand.

"Redundancies make sense when you lose money. Last year the work simply did not disappear," he explained. "Look at how many jobs are available at every holding company? How can that be possible? The market hasn't really expanded; it's just a big vacuum."

With the benefit of hindsight or not, the market has bounced back over the last year much quicker than many of us anticipated, thanks to the speed of the government's vaccine roll-out and, I suspect, the continuation of rock-bottom interest rates.

This has meant media companies need to do more to attract and retain people, as well as create a new generation of talent. I'm sad to report that this will cost money.

Hybrid working makes formal education even more important. Although hybrid is a net gain in many ways for both employers and employees in media, it’s net loss in terms of education. If you're not in the office every day learning by osmosis from your peers and bosses, something must fill the void.

Even if we were still in the office everyday like in the Before Times, media is fragmenting, commerce is booming and consumer behaviour is changing. This means people who 'do' media are being asked to perform a wider range of tasks and briefs.

As Havas Media's Eva Grimmett wrote recently, a media strategist must now be in "continual learning mode". 

More media education for marketers

How many marketers are trained specifically about how to most effectively use media for brand building or performance optimisation? How many marketers (not those at very large advertisers that have in-house media teams) are getting this training?

I'd argue media has become so fundamental to marketing that it should be added to the marketers' essential toolkit, whether that's at university, postgraduate, or 'on the job'. Over the years I've often been told of how little advertisers appear to know about what media agencies actually do for all that money they're dealing with.

Why else, as Abintus CEO Philippe Dominois reports, would brands be "often" overlooking what is written in their contracts with agencies? Why else would brands so often inflict media agencies with price-driven procurement processes, as many agency CEOs have privately complained about over the years?

If you really understand and appreciate what your vendor does for you, you'd be prepared to pay more for a better service the best and you'd know what better looks like.

And that's not even considering the ever-growing "long-tail" of advertisers, which have contributed an enormous amount to the growth of commercial media in the last decade. It may not feel like it because they advertise themselves on Facebook, Google and Amazon.

But would these people not benefit too from some institutional training and support? I wrote last week how small big advertisers look to Big Tech nowadays – this is because they make most of their money from small and medium-sized businesses.

Maybe if all these small companies understood how, collectively, their combined adspend insulates Big Tech from taking action over misinformation, hate speech and user privacy, they might want to start demanding regulation themselves.

Perhaps there could be an ISBA-like trade body to help them and Big Tech could pay for it through an arms-length trust with operational independence, this education piece could filter down into meaningful change.

Making Media Studies great again

Growing up during the New Labour years, it was often heard that some apparently unserious person was doing an A-Level in media studies because they couldn't be bothered to do a proper subject like Maths or History.

Media studies was then often used to beat Labour with a stick by opponents who claimed that university access has widened to ridiculous levels, with people learning about TV when they could be training as plumbers or electrical engineers.

But, given all the issues facing our industry that I've tried to outline in this article alone, whether it's misinformation, online harms, our increased exposure to ads, the shift from print to online news - why shouldn't it be stimulating, interesting or challenging endeavour right now than to study media?

And, given that there are so many jobs available in media, it's hardly as if becoming a media expert isn't going to be lucrative right now.

Because of the ubiquity of smartphones, there is now no escape from media. You have a television/camera/publishing tool/radio/video games console on your person literally at all times. Isn't it about time we all put more thought into how it all works?

Over the last year I've tried to become a better media industry journalist by taking part in free courses like Thinkbox's TV Masters and The Programmatic Advisory's Programmatic University. I have found these courses useful and I'm keen to hear about more like them.

I suspect if we channel that idea that making media education central to this industry as part of the post-pandemic "new normal", we will stand a much better chance of solving many of the issues that continue to hold it back.

This is a written version of some thoughts I put forward about "media excellence" last month at our Future of Media conference, where I spoke on a panel alongside our excellent Mediatel News columnists Jan Gooding and Nick Manning. 

Here's a 'key takeaways' reel from just a few of more than 100 speakers who took part in the event:

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