How much start-up culture do we need to attract young talent?

The cultural change taking place in news companies is being increasingly fuelled by the need for innovation and well-trained technology experts.

We all need the corresponding specialists from the digital environment in order to manage the digital transformation, and this means programmers, data experts, platform managers, SEO experts, and the like.

At Axel Springer, about 25% of the jobs advertised had an IT or technology focus in 2012, a figure that had already risen to 40% by 2013. We need to address creative talents and digital natives with an entrepreneurial mindset who want to work with us to drive forward the transformation of established media brands and set up a successful digital portfolio.

However, news companies are generally not at the top of the list of potential employers for this target group. This may have to do with the fact that our products are not yet conceived of as technical products.

However, what we need to ask ourselves is whether we are able to offer these young talents the kind of working environment they are seeking.

The reason we need to examine this more closely is due to another trend that can be seen among graduates and professionals: their attraction to start-ups.

This not only applies for talents with an IT and technology focus. While high potentials used to gravitate toward the world of banking and consultancy, the start-ups are now (and again) the new rock stars in the world of career starters.

A survey of a German career network has shown that about three quarters of participating talent find working for start-ups just as attractive as or even more attractive than working for large top employees.

Many of them are, of course, also aware of the disadvantages of going for such an employer, which include a relatively low salary, low job security, brands or companies that are not well-known, high workloads, an uncertain career path, and sometimes a lack of management competency.

And yet, what attracts young career beginners to start-ups is a dynamic, innovative environment that offers the opportunity to play a direct role in shaping the business and the way ahead.

In such a company, the employees are not just small cogwheels in a large clockwork system, but are given responsibility at an early stage and face a steep learning curve. However, the easy-going atmosphere, flat hierarchies, and creative design of the office spaces they work in are also part of what start-ups promise – or part of the cliché surrounding them.

This means that, on the recruitment market, we are competing with start-ups to attract the desired digital experts and business talents. And so we now have to ask ourselves how much start-up culture we need in order to assert ourselves and gain a strong foothold, also within the scene where this “war for talent” is taking place.

That is why, in our newest employer branding video, Axel Springer addresses exactly this issue – but with humour and not without a certain dose of self-irony.

The video plays with the pertinent clichés applied to the start-up branch to show – with tongue in cheek – that it sometimes takes more than just a colourful working environment.

(Use the button to activate the English subtitles!)

And yet, putting irony aside for the time being, our employer branding campaign also implies the strengths and opportunities start-ups offer.

If news companies want to safeguard the future of journalism in the digital world, there is no doubt we need to learn from start-ups (and tech companies) so we can understand and convey the right facets of their cultures to create the right dynamics and culture of innovation in our organisation.

This is a learning process we at Axel Springer – as probably many other news organisations – have already started.

At the same time, one factor still remains vital to the attractiveness of a job and an employer – and this is applies for both young technical experts and business talents alike: The work they do must be worthwhile and meaningful. And this is exactly what we as news companies can offer.

About Tilmann Knoll