Staff Writer
May 15, 2023

How Publicis Groupe Greater China is building a new paradigm on talent acquisition and retention

Staff turnover is dropping in Publicis Groupe Greater China thanks to a new initiative which grants employees the autonomy to volunteer for new roles, promotions, or pay hikes outside the regular evaluation cycle.

Rowena On, chief talent officer, Publicis Groupe Greater China.
Rowena On, chief talent officer, Publicis Groupe Greater China.

While acquiring the right talent has been a key challenge for the marketing communications industry, particularly over the last decade, a 2022 report from the World Federation of Advertisers highlighted some disturbing statistics, particularly for the Asia-Pacific region. A survey of advertisers and agencies found that APAC tops the list of markets that believe the industry is amid its worst-ever talent crisis, with 76% of respondents from the region considering shortage of skills to be a major inhibitor of growth.

An innovative initiative for talent retention

Publicis Groupe Greater China is attempting to address this crisis of talent and the attendant pressures it places on the business such as inflated salaries and rampant job-hopping. It has created Project Roar, a unique opportunity for staff to volunteer to be evaluated for promotion outside the annual performance review process. This programme gives employees more control over their careers, provides a transparent path for advancement, and rewards the initiative of staff who believe they are ready for a wider mandate or greater challenge. And it bags gold in Asia Pacific Talent Development Program of the Year and silver in Greater China, while also shortlisted in Global Talent Management Team of the Year.

Rowena On, chief talent officer, Publicis Groupe Greater China said, “By prioritising employee development and creating a supportive and collaborative work environment, we can attract and retain top talent without resorting to unsustainable practices. We aim to set a standard for each level, providing clear expectations and transparency.”

Under Project Roar, employees who believe they deserve higher remuneration, or that they are ready for a different role at their agency or within the network, can nominate themselves. Potential candidates are then given a clear idea of the skills needed for the next role, and the areas where they may be lacking. Within media, this could be external certifications from platforms like Baidu or ByteDance, and for more managerial positions, internal courses on leadership. Having gone through requisite training, candidates appear before a panel consisting of senior leaders from within the agency who take the final decision. Last year, over 50% of the 500 people who applied got promoted, a job change, or a salary increase.

Through this process, Publicis Groupe Greater China is taking ambiguity and opacity out of promotions, and adding a greater sense of autonomy. Even those who don’t make the cut are mostly grateful for knowing where they stand and the improvements that are expected. Giving an example, On said, “If ‘100% accuracy on spot plans’ is one of the criteria, and the line manager can demonstrate that the candidate has not met that goal, it is specific feedback, rather than ‘I don’t think you are ready yet’ which is opaque.”

Why Project Roar will not replace the regular performance evaluation cycle

Critically, Project Roar complements rather than replaces more conventional evaluations at Publicis Groupe Greater China. On said, “Performance review is based on how the staff did at a particular position or level over time. It does not mean the top 20% is ready for promotion as they may not have the skills and knowledge needed.”

The self-driven learning-based approach of Project Roar marks a sharp break in an industry where traditionally, career development has been synonymous with rapid job switches in pursuit of a better designation or paycheque. It provides a great incentive for talented staff to find their next big break within the network. Asked about how it was pitched to agency management, On said, “I explained them that with a more progressive approach and by encouraging our staff to step up, we can retain the best.”

While aimed primarily at junior- to mid-level staff, the spirit of volunteering to be evaluated for bigger responsibilities through self-learning and skill acquisition is being promoted across all brands and levels. The initiative ties into an industry-wide need for upskilling, particularly among mid- to senior-level professionals.

Helping the agency along in the process is the AI-powered Marcel platform, which spans multiple geographies and agency brands. Besides being a great place for agency staff to learn, connect, and collaborate, Marcel includes the growth dashboard which provides a centralised view of an employee’s trajectory, with personalised recommendations to help them grow.

The results speak for themselves, with the overall turnover rate at Publicis Groupe China having dropped by 43.5%. In addition, staff have clocked in a total of 2,906 hours of learning, while the favourable score of China employee engagement survey sits at 87.5%.

A more realistic approach to talent acquisition

Project Roar also doubles up as a great recruitment tool. The option of an out-of-turn evaluation for career advancement is a great incentive.

This marks yet another break from the conventions of recruitment. On said, “When you approach potential candidates, you always promise them the moon and then that’s what they ask for!” But often, such candidates find themselves in positions and at salary levels that are out of sync with their capabilities. On said, “at the end they suffer because they are evaluated on a job at a level that is not quite there yet. Many of them may not pass probation.”

With Project Roar in place, managers can clearly delineate the areas of improvement that are expected according to the specifications of the job. On also hopes that with Project Roar in place, agencies vying for talent from Publicis Groupe Greater China will think twice before poaching. She said, “If they approach our talent and give them a promotion, they should know that this person has not achieved a particular qualification internally.”

Promoting greater employee autonomy

Autonomy at Publicis Groupe Greater China goes beyond Project Roar. With a chance to rethink traditional notions of work and efficiency post-pandemic, employees now have the flexibility to work from any office in the world for up to six weeks every year. Officially launched in late 2021, Work Your World is a great tool for talent retention. On said, “It offers unprecedented experiences and allows our people to enjoy flexibility while discovering the world, immersing themselves in new cultures, and nourishing their health and well-being.” So far, there have already been 2,500 Work Your World trips and application increased by 60% this year.

It’s part of Publicis Groupe Greater China’s differentiated take on career development, with a great value placed on autonomy and self-improvement. On said, “What sets us apart is a staff-centred approach, empowering employees to drive their own career aspirations through self-learning and self-driven career advancement. By fostering a culture of continuous learning and development, Publicis Groupe Greater China ensures its employees have the skills and knowledge to succeed in their current roles and advance their careers at their own pace and in accord with their aspirations.”

Campaign Asia

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