Career focus: finance in the film and media industry

Have you ever looked at the celebrities on the front of magazines and wished that your life had a bit more excitement? Or watched a movie and pined for a more glamorous lifestyle than the career path you have chosen on face value might present. Fear not – we reveal how accountancy can provide the lifestyle of the rich and famous

You too can get in on the action with a finance career in the media. Not only is the sector among the most dynamic and exciting, but it also provides accountants with great opportunities to use their technical skill alongside their commercial nous.

Typically, the media is represented by iconic individuals who often head up global brands; the Simon Cowells, Richard Bransons and Rupert Murdochs of the world. But behind the headline-grabbing stars, there are thousands of companies – big and small – in many different areas that combine to create a thriving media industry. These include broadcasting, publishing, new media, advertising, marketing and PR.

What type of work is there?

Traditionally, the finance functions within media companies have supported the business by providing core accounting services such as accounts payable, payroll, credit control, management accounting and client accounting.

There has been a significant increase in the demand for commercial accounting skills such as commercial analysts who support the business in terms of developing more sophisticated reporting tools such as WIP (Work in Progress) tracking, assisting with the bid and tender process for new work, and trying to add value internally and externally. And if you work your way to the top, you really do become invaluable to your showbiz clients.

David Blacher is a partner at Baker Tilly and heads up the firm’s media group. ‘I look after all [the clients’] advisory needs,’ he says, ‘from corporate tax issues to personal finance. They need a lot of hand holding and for me that’s a key motivation. We are business advisors.’

So, if you really do believe that there is no business like show business, how can you get a foot on the ladder of a career in media finance?

‘There’s no replacement for a solid technical accounting base,’ says Rebecca Sharp, a consultant on the Media Finance Division at Badenoch & Clark. ‘Media sector experience is also a key for businesses looking to hire with over 50% of new requirements registered in the past 12 months with candidates with previous knowledge of the industry.’

‘If you are thinking of entering the sector it may be an idea to do some voluntary work experience within a media company as this can help you stand out from the crowd,’ suggests Richard Jaye, manager at Hays Accountancy & Finance.

‘Other key skills preferred by media employers include an in-depth knowledge of media-specific packages such as Rebus Paprika and advanced excel skills, in addition to experience of budgeting, re-forecasting, multi-currency work, WIP and billings. Many media organisations may have partner companies within their group so evidence of intercompany work is also a plus. In general, accounting practices are quite similar across most industries and having a strong technical base partnered with a professional qualification is highly recommended as a strong starting point,’ he advises.

Creative differences?

Of course, one of the draws of working in the media is also one of the great challenges of the work. Dealing with ‘media types’; everyone from uber cool ad men, to brusque PRs, all the way up to the talent. After all, even Lady Gaga has an accountant.

‘The “creatives” will often have different priorities in terms of improving the client relationship, delivering a high level of work trying to see the bigger picture. The finance staff need to be able to empathise with this but still provide a check and balance to this to ensure that in these difficult economic times the business is still delivering to the bottom line. In addition, patience and team work are essential for their success,’ says Sharp.

‘You need to have an understanding of people,’ adds Blacher. ‘The common theme is that the clients don’t tend to have sophisticated finance functions. They prioritise creativity. It can be frustrating but it’s the challenge and the fun. More traditional manufacturing clients would be working with a profit incentive but the vast majority of the owner-managed, mid-market media companies are driven by the love of the work first and foremost. They can be temperamental. Our challenge is how not to come across as a boring accountant.’

One of the sacrifices you may have to make if you choose a media career is that remuneration still lags behind other sectors, such as financial services.

‘However the gap is narrowing,’ claims Sharp, ‘particularly as the lack of strong commercial acumen among many of the candidates in the sector drives up salaries.’

‘It is important to note,' continues Jaye, ‘that there is a lot of fluctuation between companies; larger media conglomerates may offer more competitive salaries in addition to structured benefits and study packages. Smaller media companies may not be able to match these salaries or offer time off for study if there is only one or two in the account team. Working within a smaller company often offers non‑financial benefits, such as a more relaxed environment and flexibility regarding working hours.’

There are also fantastic opportunities for those who have taken a less traditional approach to their finance careers. Baker Tilly has a huge graduate programme but, says Blacher, is also looking for bright non graduates. ‘We’re trying to mix it up, and getting people who, perhaps are studying for an accounting technician qualification. There are real opportunities for good quality school leavers, and it helps us broaden our horizons as well.’

Baker Tilly is an independent member of Baker Tilly International, a network of 147 high quality, independent accountancy and business services firms across 114 countries in the Americas, Asia Pacific, Europe, the Middle East & Africa.

Recession impact

As with every other industry across the globe, the media sector has been hit by the recession.

‘Media has been hardest hit in the recession,’ believes Blacher. ‘It’s hit each of the key strands of our work; TV production houses have had their budgets slashed, advertisers have seen spending cuts.

‘People have had to make hard decisions. But I think it’s now bottomed out and it won’t get any worse. All businesses have realigned and improved and the recession did get rid of a lot of dead wood.’

Fewer companies does not necessarily equate to fewer jobs either. ‘As the UK economy left recession in Q1 2010, hiring freezes have been lifted and many core roles that were left understaffed have been replaced. The transition from print media to online content has seen contraction and expansion accordingly,’ says Sharp. ‘Many of our clients have been focusing on ways to make efficiencies within their business and a number of project staff have been used to facilitate this. In larger organisations we have seen the introduction of some shared service centres which has maintained a steady job flow.’

‘There remains fierce competition for jobs within the larger media organisations,’ adds Jaye. So if you think you’ve got what it takes, why not consider a career in the spotlight? As Sharp concludes: ’Genuine enthusiasm and a sense of humour go a long way to securing the dream job.’

"If you are thinking of entering the sector it may be an idea to do some voluntary work experience within a media company as this can help you stand out from the crowd"