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Media companies need to be more involved with media schools

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Media companies need to be more involved with media schools - April 17th, 2006

Media companies need to be more involved with media schools. This would help plug the talent gap

Last year the ADAG (Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group) owned Adlabs spent over eight months searching for someone to head their multiplex business. The Rs 87-crore Adlabs had raised over Rs 800 crore in 2005. It needed (and still does) to ramp up fast to fulfil investor expectations. Adlabs simply did not have the time "to deal with someone who may be very bright but has to be taken through the basics", says Pooja Shetty, director, Adlabs. In November 2005, she hired Tushar Dhingra from PVR Cinemas. Since then, Adlabs has hired more than half a dozen senior managers, with varying experience, to head each of their new businesses — radio, film distribution and animation, among several others. Back in the summer of 2005, three new newspapers, Hindustan Times, DNA and Mumbai Mirror, were launching in Mumbai. The joke was that there was such a scarcity of journalists that a board outside The Times of India's office read: "Trespassers may be recruited."
It may be funny, but it's serious business. A PricewaterhouseCoopers report says that the Rs 35,300-crore media and entertainment industry is expected to grow at a compounded annual growth rate of 19 per cent for the next four years. In 2005, a record Rs 2,500 crore was invested in the sector. Most of it is riding on infrastructure expansion plans: multiplexes, digital cinemas or direct-to-home television systems.
That kind of capital needs people with a sound understanding of the me-dia business. Which is where companies such as Adlabs, Bennett Coleman & Co. (BCCL), and Sun TV, among others, are running into a wall. There simply aren't enough people and not all those working in the industry are good. The result: jobs chasing not always top-notch talent, rising salaries and new media schools. This year's 60-strong batch at the Mudra Institute of Communication Ahmedabad (MICA) had 105 job offers. Last year, salaries within the sector were among the fastest growing at about 14.6 per cent, according to the Hewitt Salary Survey 2006. While recruiting people, companies now prefer to hire from mainstream B-schools such as Xavier Institute of Management, Jamnalal Bajaj Institute of Management Studies (JBIMS), Symbiosis Institute of Business Management (SIBM) instead of lower rung media management schools.
Of the 80-odd media schools that we counted, over a dozen have come up in the last three years. (This includes media courses being offered by universities.) The new entrants include Pioneer Media School in New Delhi, International School of Business and Media in Pune, and the Amrita School of Journalism in Coimbatore.

Yet, media companies aren't happy. While the demand figure is not very clear — industry observers estimate demand to be in excess of one lakh — the supply from media schools is only about 6,000, with 80 per cent of them trained on the content side. "There is a glaring gap between what is available and what we want keeping in mind the cost of hiring," says Rajendra Mehta, general manager (human resources), BCCL. Last year, BCCL hired 80 people in Delhi, while large media houses took in between 40 and 50 employees each. "We believe most media institutes fall short of training standards required by us at the freshman level. The only good thing is that since many institutes take people who are fundamentally bright, we can take them in and train them," says Ashwini Kamath, associate director (marketing), Starcom Media Vest Group.
Mind The Gap
Part of the problem is historical. Till the early 1990s, the theoretical and ideological foundations of media education in India had largely been developed within a closed industry scenario dominated by large government-owned broadcasters. Things changed once private broadcasting took off. The need for more professionals arose. As a result, there was a surge in the growth of media schools. "We felt that media education had certain gaps — convergence in all forms of media and a course which also concentrates on media managers and potential entrepreneurs," says Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, founder director, School of Convergence, New Delhi, which was set up in 2001.
Most have however focussed on the 'content' side or on churning out journalists to meet the demand for increasing newspaper editions and channels. The Mass Communication and Research Centre at Jamia Milia Islamia increased its student intake by 20, to 110 in 2005. It has also started a new course in print journalism. In addition to this, large media companies also find regular graduate colleges happy hunting grounds for staffing the content side. BCCL, for instance, recruited 30 graduates from colleges like St. Stephens, JNU and the Delhi School of Economics. It also restarted its media school in 2004 after having shut it down in 1997. A lot of people from other professions also turn to journalism. So, the content area has, at most times, surplus people.
It is at the business end — the operations, circulation, scheduling, ad-sales, brand management, media planning and buying or strategic levels — that the gaps are bigger. "Mass media education in the country focuses on the mass communication and journalism side or is too focused on the technical side of creating media content. There is a glaring gap when it comes to providing even basic understanding of managing the various media functions in the industry," says Atul Tandon, director, MICA.
The dearth of specialised media graduates has resulted in fresh graduates being hired from general management institutes. The Hindu hires from IIM-Kozhikode and XLRI-Jamshedpur. Star TV visits the SIBM and Management Development Institute (MDI), Gurgaon. Starcom, which recruits from MDI, Gurgaon and JBIMS, has an in-house training programme for new recruits. Trainees go through 10 weeks of training. This includes hands-on training on tools and software, training at media owner companies and field sales training at a client company. Similarly, at Lodestar, the media analytics arm of FCB Ulka, fresh recruits are put through one month of classroom sessions conducted by senior managers. This is followed by another month of sales training. "The idea is to understand the ground realities of sales before devising advertising strategies," says Shashi Sinha, president and COO, Lodestar.
The problem lies with the curriculum that most media schools follow. While there are case studies and projects on understanding the intricacies of marketing, of the FMCG sector or advertising, there is less emphasis on understanding media as a separate function, thinks Tandon. In most cases, all that media management gets is a few sessions in the advertising course. A parallel of sorts can be drawn from what is presently happening across B-schools. Sectoral booms powered by liberalisation have seen an active industry participation to nurture the management pool of the country.
That is what media companies will have to do. If they participate actively in designing curriculum and training based on their needs, it will hasten the coming of age of media schools.
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