Sleep deprivation, heightening tension, and never-ending rivers of caffeine. A three-point checklist that—at face value—encapsulates the MediaWorks experience. Yet both delegates and mentors report that however strenuous, this annual training gauntlet offers rewards that outweigh the discomforts.
The latest incarnation of the four-day event, MediaWorks 2017, opened on Wednesday and wrapped up on Saturday at the JW Marriott in Hanoi.
The intensive course is designed to imbue young talent with skills and practical experience to thrive in media roles. Now in its 12th year, it is equal parts vocational bootcamp, networking hub, and conference, with the added flavour of a tense reality-TV challenge.
This year's MediaWorks drew nearly 80 delegates, representing 25 organisations from across the region. Separated on arrival from colleagues and placed in one of eight colour-coded teams, they were assigned their mission; to research, craft, and pitch an enticing and—more importantly—viable media strategy for a client. In fewer than 40 hours.
Torie Henderson, who returned for the fifth consecutive year (and 11th time total) to chair the event, admitted that while this stress-inducing timeframe doesn’t mirror the real world precisely, it serves a purpose. “It’s important how they learn from those stresses, not just in terms of how the team behave but what it’s brought out in themselves,” said Henderson, who was recently appointed CEO for Southeast Asia and India at Omnicom Media Group.
One notable feature of MediaWorks is that each edition invites a different client to present a unique brief. This year that duty was taken on by Seraphina Wong, APAC executive director for brand management and advertising at UBS. Defying expectations, the brief wasn’t for an established brand, but instead a startup company in an extremely niche market.
“It is a challenging brief because it is something they don’t know,” Wong told Campaign following the reveal. “But in the actual utilization of their skillsets, in the long term they will benefit.”
This curveball indeed sent more than a few delegates into panic mode, unsure of how to put together a pitch for such a foreign concept under already strenuous circumstances. This is exactly why MediaWorks uses a mentor system, wherein each group is assigned an industry veteran to offer support and guidance to their team. Though these mentors are not allowed to take a hands-on part in project creation, their knowledge and experience often prove invaluable.
One such mentor, Chris Harrison, chief strategy officer for Publicis Media, told Campaign the role chiefly involves fostering collaboration. “None of them know each other, they’re all strangers," he said. "What is crucial is that they move through the successful stages of team development, and I think the mentor’s role is to push them through to that final stage.”
Though many of the delegates’ limited hours were spent in designated workrooms tirelessly toiling together on their project pitches, the event also featured a series of informative on-stage talks by guest speakers. These included event sponsor presentations by Neil Stewart (head of agency for APAC at Facebook), Regina Goh (Asia managing director at Blis), and Paul Sng (senior content strategist with BBC StoryWorks). In addition, Campaign brand director Atifa Silk chaired an agency CEO panel discussion.
By the concluding morning, exhaustion brought on by endless debate, lack of rest, and the after-effects of revelries the night before (following pitch presentations) could not snuff out the sense of satisfaction hanging in the air. Members from all teams—whether they had been selected to present again for final judging or not—reported a sense of accomplishment and a better understanding of working with others outside of their region. Even when Team Orange (mentored by Ed Thesiger, GroupM's Vietnam and Indonesia CEO) took the grand prize, no one felt that they went home empty handed.
“Our job is not just to try to inform them while they’re here but to try to give them some skills that they’re going to take forward for the next 10 years of their career, and perhaps beyond that," Henderson said,