Filed under: Agency Culture, Attitude & Aptitude, Comment, Creative Development, Marketing, Perspective, Talent, Technology
NOTE: As you know, I tend to pre-write my posts quite a bit in advance. I say this because when I wrote this, I was told the article I am basing my perspective on, would have come out. It hasn’t.
With that in mind, I’ve had to make a few changes to how this post was originally written by removing the name of the person I am responding to because I do not believe it is fair to quote them when their words have not yet gone into the public domain. Sorry.
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So yesterday I talked about how a global CCO of a global network agency and I were asked to write about how the advertising industry can attract creative talent.
You can read their perspective here.
Anyway, after they wrote his response, I was asked for mine.
I must admit, I found it hard because ‘response’ means you should directly respond to the point of view of the person before you and I felt that was unfair because regardless what I think they are doing – or his agency as a whole – I have to say it’s good they’re doing something.
However – and, as usual, it’s a big however – I do think they are putting a plaster on the issue rather than dealing with the issue directly.
This is not meant as a criticism of their work or their actions, but more a counter way of how we should be looking at dealing with the situation if we are serious about maintaining our relevance in both attracting creative talent and offering something clients can’t get elsewhere.
Anyway, this is what my response was …
Before I begin, I should point out there are still agencies and individuals who act as an inspiration for young creative talent to join our industry … however, it has been widely acknowledged that this is becoming harder to do, so this is my response to that challenge.
Advertising is the only industry that gives people business cards that labels the holder as ‘creative’. Musicians don’t call themselves that. Neither do authors. Or games designers. Why does adland feel it is necessary to say what someone is, rather than show what they do? Hell, why does adland think creativity only lives in those who work – or want to work – in the field of art and copy?
Of course there are many reasons for this – from remuneration to routine – however I also believe it’s because we’ve been slowly moving away from creativity to focusing on execution.
In other words, from thinking broadly to thinking narrow.
If people don’t fit into our tight definition of ‘what creativity is’, then we tend to view them as misfits … obstacles… people who block creative potential rather than have the skills to maybe bring original ways to solving clients problems.
Of course it’s not entirely adlands fault, clients have also contributed to this situation by placing ‘KPI’s’ on agencies that basically pushes them to hire people who will deliver exactly what they want, but the fact is that while I praise the CCO for what he is doing at his network – and acknowledge everything has to start somewhere – agency ‘programs’ will not fundamentally change the business until we do 2 things.
1. Change how we structure our remuneration because without that, the status quo will always beat committing to the new and different.
2. Change our attitude towards what ‘creativity’ actually is.
Is it any wonder young creative talent are questioning a career in advertising when the work they see us put out to the world hasn’t really evolved over the past 50 years?
That doesn’t mean the work we are doing is wrong – nor does it mean there has not been immense creativity, craft and purpose that has gone into it – but given so much of it doesn’t reflect the world young creative talent live and operate in, it’s hardly a surprise they aren’t inspired by it, compared to industries, like tech, fashion, music or a billion start-ups. [Who are perceived, probably rightly, to offer better money, potential, hours and glamour]
The fact is, creativity is not this narrow space we have pulled ourselves into and the fact we hold on to it so doggedly – both because a lot of clients ask for it and because it gives us a sense of control and security – is contributing to young creative talent turning their backs on a career in advertising.
So how do we change it?
Well, it’s easier said than done and – as I said – I applaud the CCO for what they are doing, but we need to change how we do what we do and how we charge for it.
In other words, blow the whole fucking thing up.
Sure, the industry can continue to make money doing what it’s doing, but whether it will be able to claim it is ‘creative’ is another thing altogether … and then we’ll be in an even worse situation.
I hate to say it, but we talk big but the reality is we often think quite small.
Worse, when we talk big, it’s often in terms of ‘ad’ ideas rather than ideas.
I still passionately believe ‘Square’ should have come from an agency. Or a bank.
Let’s face it, the situation it was addressing – small business finds cash flow difficult – was hardly some astounding revelation. But we didn’t, because it’s easier – and cheaper – to say we care rather than develop stuff that shows it … and then use communication to amplify our solution to the masses.
[I also acknowledge it could be because clients often don’t give us the chance to explore these possibilities, so it ends up being a chicken and egg situation]
For me, a great start for change would be if we got back to embracing broad, rather than narrow.
Open ourselves up to new thinking … change how we work … question our processes and systems … give people the time, support and encouragement to try stuff. Really try stuff. Not send them to some 2-day workshop but push them to push themselves. Help them invest in their own development and let them know they have a place where they are allowed to really try stuff. And fail.
I would personally stop our obsession with award entries and allocate some of that time – and resources – to developing mini businesses. Or new [commercially minded] products. Or anything that shows the best of our creative thinking, rather than the laziest.
Stuff that could generate awareness and prestige because they’re not focused just on the bubble of advertising, but culture.
I’ve always said that our biggest problem is thinking other agencies are our competitor.
We might not like to admit it, but Google, HBO and Facebook [to name a few] have impacted and influenced culture far more than we have.
We’ve absolutely helped with their success, but they’ve been the instigators of it … but it doesn’t have to be that way. Hell, it wasn’t always that way.
“But Rob …”, I hear you say, “… we’ve lost our seat at the boardroom table”.
Yes … but that’s not just because of clients, it’s also because of us.
The fact is we’ve often been more interested in talking about what we’re interested in doing, rather than what the client is interested in achieving – and while we’ve all started talking more openly about the need to impact business – this has seemingly resulted in some agencies behaving in a way that’s made them indistinguishable from the clients they represent.
Some think this is a good idea – that it helps clients take us seriously – but for me, I’ve always found the best clients like ‘intelligent outsiders’, because we offer them something they don’t already know, something they don’t already have, something that can fundamentally help their business in ways they never imagined.
As the CCO said, things won’t change overnight and I am certainly not suggesting the industry should blindly try and attract ‘young creatives’ to like us – there’s a lot of stuff we’re great at that people will find important and valuable to know and learn – however I feel if we change our attitude and process towards what creativity is, it will start to point our industry us in a new direction … a place where the sun hasn’t already set … a place that young creative talent [in the broad sense of the word] will want to explore and learn from.
A place that is infectious again.
Then it’s up to us.
Just like changing the remuneration system.
I know … I know … but I told you yesterday these were going to be long posts.
Now I am in no way suggesting I have all the answers and I know the CCO isn’t either.
I also know there’s issues, as I touched on, like pay and working conditions that are also having a negative influence on attracting talent.
But what do you think?
What could work? What are we doing wrong?
Do you feel their view is more on the money or mine. Or neither of us.
Is anyone getting it right?
I don’t just mean attracting young talent, but actually doing something interesting and commercially valuable with them?
I’d love to hear your point of view, especially if you’re young and in advertising or young and anti-advertising, though I accept you probably haven’t even got to this point of the post because you fell asleep ages ago.
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