Amasa’s learnership programme finds promising graduates and trains them to work in media agencies. Is enough being done by this small, elite programme?
Prince Ndlovu never ceases to impress those he works with. His employers at Carat describe the respected young media strategist as “a superstar”. Yet he may never have found his niche in this industry had it not been for the Advertising Media Association of South Africa (Amasa) Learnership Programme (ALP). Ndlovu was among the first beneficiaries of the ALP, which aims to address the shortage of talented youngsters coming into the media industry.
In 2009, the programme’s inaugural year, Ndlovu was studying for his final year of a Marketing Communications degree at the University of Johannesburg. Like many students nearing graduation, he was feeling daunted by the prospect of having to compete for a job after varsity. But then he had a chance meeting with Starcom MediaVest Group MD Gordon Patterson, who introduced him to the ALP.
After a stringent and nerve-wracking selection process, during which Ndlovu faced his first formal interviews, he was awarded one of the five places in the programme. And so the course of his career was changed, says Ndlovu. If he hadn’t got into the programme, he would most probably have continued in marketing.
The ALP has given Ndlovu and numerous other recent graduates, most of whom had not previously considered a career in the media, a kick-start in the industry. However, it is an expensive programme for which Amasa must raise significant funding.
So, is it worth it?
Ryan Williams, head of sales at Cinemark, who is involved in selecting ALP interns, estimates that it costs about R50 000 to put a learner through the ALP. Interns get paid, hands-on experience at one of the ALP’s partner agencies, Starcom, Mediaedge, The MediaShop, NotaBene and Ads24, for six months. They are also admitted to the AAA School of Advertising’s six-month media course and Amasa’s four-day media planning workshop.
Says ALP co-ordinator Karen Van Wyk, group marketing manager at ComutaNet: “The programme consists of an overall experience of media agency tasks such as buying, planning and strategy. Each agency appoints a mentor for the learner to ensure focus on the learner from the agency’s side.” Each learner also gets mentoring from the Amasa committee.
Interns are recruited from universities and media schools, says Amasa chair Lyn Jones, marketing manager at Continental Outdoor, and have degrees such as a BComm or BSc. “We even recruit engineers. This is because media planning is mathematical; it has an analytical bias. People with these degrees have 90% of the skills needed.”
Jones says that if an intern finishes the course, they are practically guaranteed a job. Ndlovu, for instance, worked at Starcom for two-and-a-half years before he was snapped up by Carat.
Another ALP beneficiary is Themba ‘Mandla’ Shabangu, who is now at The MediaShop, where he has mainly gained experience in media buying. Shabangu was awarded a marketing diploma from Unisa in 2009 and, after completing his ALP, he has gone on to study towards a BTech in Digital Planning and Strategy. He was one of the many who were unaware of the option of a career in media until he heard about the ALP.
“What I’ve realised is that media is a lifestyle, with the long hours and skills required, and not a nine-to-five job. The Amasa workshop (an annual, four-day ‘Nuts and Bolts of Media Planning’ seminar) gave me a true reflection of the industry in terms of the working hours, work etiquette, etcetera. The AAA course lecturers didn’t only impart their knowledge of the industry, but placed emphasis on personal skills as well; for example, looking at presentation and negotiation skills.
“Had it not been for Amasa’s ALP, I would not have been exposed to the media industry… and wouldn’t have specialised in media at Unisa.”
Shabangu’s supervisor at The MediaShop, Marina Linden, said he definitely benefited from the programme. “Mandla joined The MediaShop in July 2010, but he joined my team only in February 2011. He is a team player and a real asset, and someone who I can entrust work to when I am away from the office. This has been recognised: he has been promoted to media buyer and is currently being groomed on digital planning.”
Alarece Eaton, HR Manager at The MediaShop, says, “I have watched Mandla grow, not just in learning but as an individual. He has gained confidence and he takes on all he can to learn as much as he can from his experience.”
Says Ndlovu: “The programme was run at a very professional level. It provided me with industry experience and also allowed me the opportunity to go to school and study advertising and media. I was able to implement what I learned at an agency level.
“The Amasa media planning workshop was a once in a lifetime experience for me. You’ve never worked in a team until you’ve been to one of these! The experience was great as people from different parts of the industry were working together, from media owner, to agency people, to the client side.
“Going through the ALP is the best way to enter the industry for anyone. It’s a full package of what the industry is.”
Carat MD Sean Donnelly is glowing in his praise of Ndlovu. “He has been an absolute superstar!” he says. Ndlovu is currently working with Nokia on a significant piece of business for Carat, just one of many top brands he has dealt with.
And, as far as cultural fit goes, Ndlovu fits the organisation “hand in glove”, says Donnelly. He has impressed people when it comes to client relations too, garnering great respect from Old Mutual in particular.
So the ALP can give bright students a foot in the door. But it produces only five potential employees a year: is that enough? Williams says he feels that, all in all, the ALP has been a success and is a worthwhile endeavour. “Even if it’s just one person, it’s worked out well,” he says.
He agrees that the programme should be able to produce more, but adds that they aren’t limited by factors such as budget as much as by the quality of applicants. Says Williams: “It’s partly financial, but it’s really more about the supply issue. This is why we’ve involved AAA this year. We’re not going to push people who don’t cut the mustard.”
In July, Amasa said they were pleased to announce that four more of the programme’s interns had found full-time jobs, at Starcom and at Notabene.
Ndlovu has some advice for students looking to apply for the ALP. “Grab the opportunity with both hands. It provides you with a unique footstep into an industry that’s dynamic, always challenging the way you view media, products, brands and advertising. You will have fun, sleepless nights and days where you want to cry but, at the end of the day, seeing your first campaign on TV, billboards or hearing it on radio brings such a thrill, that it will definitely keep you up at night!”
Image: Prince Ndlovu