18 June 2024

Our research has shown that 59% of media businesses feel optimistic about the future of their organisation over the next 12 months. However, many have had to make hard decisions in the past year - particularly around workforce.

A number of high-profile companies have already announced mass layoffs this year. This follows a tumultuous 2023 that saw the media sector cut over 20,000 jobs globally, the highest year-to-date figure since the pandemic. 

A persistent harsh economic climate and a downshift in the advertising market have been major contributors to these layoffs. In our survey of 300 UK media business leaders, we looked to the workforce challenges organisations are facing, and their strategies for navigating them. 

Understanding recruitment challenges in media 

A considerable portion of media businesses are struggling to find the right people to meet their strategic goals, with 60% of respondents finding recruiting new staff somewhat, or extremely challenging. Although significant, this is a more promising sentiment among media businesses compared to last year’s research, where 80% of our survey respondents found recruiting new staff somewhat, or extremely challenging. 

Graph asking how challenging it was for businesses to recruit staff over the last 12 months. Most found it challenging. Replies explored in text above.

These findings are largely consistent with broader trends we’ve observed in the middle market, with factors such as inflationary pressures, ever-evolving hybrid working demands, and a skills gap contributing to recruitment challenges. We’re also seeing media businesses increasingly experimenting with the use of generative AI, which will undoubtedly impact workforce recruitment, retention and training.

With inflationary pressures squeezing hiring budgets, offering the higher salaries and benefit packages that attract top talent has become more difficult.

As so many businesses are stating they are struggling to recruit, we might assume that they simply can’t increase their workforce enough. And this would correlate with the relatively low unemployment rate in the UK, in comparison to the past decade.

However, our findings around redundancies clearly highlight that this is not simply a numbers issue for the media industry.

Rather, particularly in digital and multimedia practices, the problem is finding candidates with the necessary expertise to navigate the rapidly evolving media landscape.

Balancing redundancies and quality hiring

It has been a turbulent few years for the media industry, especially regarding redundancies. 2024 has been no exception, with prominent companies like Channel 4 and the Los Angeles Times announcing plans to cut as much as 20% of their staff due to financial struggles. Our survey results only echoed this. Over the last year, 75% of respondents laid off between 5-25% of their staff, a similar figure to last year’s survey (84%). None of last year’s survey respondents reported laying off more than 50% of their staff. Conversely, 6% of this year’s respondents made more than 50% of their staff redundant, highlighting the severity of the current economic environment and the tough decisions companies are being forced to make. 

Graph about "Staff redundancies in the last 12 months". Most media businesses made staff redundant.

However, the most notable finding is that only 1% of respondents have not made any redundancies in the last 12 months.

While media companies are actively trying to recruit the right talent into their businesses, economic pressures have caused many of them to streamline operations and optimise costs. Today, the focus is firmly on maintaining a lean operation while still delivering quality content. This balancing act proves to be a major challenge for the industry – only further highlighting the need to have the right people in place to help achieve business goals.

Successful recruitment strategies

But what of the 38% of our respondents who are not struggling to recruit new staff? What might those organisations be doing differently? These companies have likely maximised their recruitment strategies, effectively leveraging various recruitment channels, offering competitive compensation packages, and promoting a strong employer brand. 

With the shift towards hybrid working models having introduced new complexities in managing a distributed workforce and maintaining a cohesive company culture, it may be that these businesses have also adapted well to new ways of working, successfully fostering a culture that supports remote work.

Employers increasingly planning on implementing share option schemes

One way to incentivise potential new recruits and retain current workforce is through share option schemes. It’s therefore great to see that 34% of respondents already have a share option scheme in place, while 44% plan to implement one for their employees. 

Graph asking: "Does your business provide a share options scheme for employees?" Replies covered in text above.

Share option schemes are not just about financial incentives. They offer employees a sense of ownership and vested interest in the company’s long-term success, which is particularly crucial in today’s competitive business environment, where retaining top talent can be a significant challenge. They also help reinforce the cultural aspects of a particular business, regardless of how the incentives might be structured. It is increasingly common for businesses that offer and operate share incentives to plan events to maximise engagement with participants and the wider workforce.

These schemes can also provide a competitive advantage in terms of recruitment. While they can be offered with minimal additional cost to the business, many have yet to include this in their benefits package. 

In the UK alone, there are four tax-advantaged share plans, which cater for a variety of different award structures and scenarios. They will not suit all businesses, for instance, where a company does not meet the qualifying criteria (eg size or ownership can preclude the tax advantages), and for those, there are still a host of different ways in which equity incentivisation can be achieved.

However, implementing these schemes is not without its complexities. Companies need to ensure the schemes are designed and managed effectively, aligning with long-term goals and meeting evolving tax and regulatory requirements. They are often structured in a way that rewards employees for staying with the company and contributing to its growth over time, and therefore driving those core cultural values of the business.

We’re seeing that companies are cautiously distributing share option schemes throughout their workforce. Only 2% of respondents offer share option schemes to more than 50% of their workforce, whereas 56% have awarded share option schemes to between 11 and 25% of their employees. This highlights differing strategies and the balance which often needs to be struck between employees, investors, founders and any other shareholders, with some companies prioritising key people within the business, while others take a broader approach.

Graph asking "What percentage of your workforce have share options?" 57% replied that 11-25% do. More replies explored in the text above.

Our experience at RSM shows that employers who design and implement share plans that represent a strong fit with the broader business culture and goals will reap the benefits of that joined-up approach. Share option plans that are seen as a default add-on can often be forgotten and become stale and ineffective. The best-administered share plans will often involve strong support and leadership from throughout the stakeholder group (ie management and shareholders) to encourage and instil the right culture and behaviours through these incentives, ultimately delivering value to all.

Media industry outlook 2024

Explore results from our survey with 300 media industry business leaders focusing on workforce, sustainability, innovation reliefs, funding and exit planning.