the crone

opening the door to ideas


There’s something very sad happening in the creative industry. I’ve hesitated to talk about, because I hate to sound bitter.

But here goes.

It’s about the hiring strategy of ad agencies.  And before you assume this is all about me, it isn’t. I am not looking for employment. (Unless it’s really, really good. In which case — call me?)

But. I digress.

I still occasionally freelance in London ad agencies. Yes, I know! Over 45 and they still let me in. Amazing. I put it down to my ability to camouflage my age with my chameleon wit and brilliant bantz. Yeh. Skillz.

I am without doubt the oldest creative (and often, still the only female) in the department. And I’m saddened to see that, slowly but surely, senior creatives are being ‘let go’.

Now, I know it’s a tough life. I’ve been made redundant three times myself. But what saddens me is what happens next.

A junior team will be hired to take their place.

Nothing wrong with juniors, by the way. I was a junior copywriter once. I know I had a lot to prove. I wanted to be better than the best. I wanted to shine and learn, and make my words and ideas work brilliantly for whatever client, whatever brief I was given.

The attitude was, you could win an award with a great trade press ad for glue.

And people often did win prestigious awards for that work.

There was a constant, hard fought battle for creative supremacy. To produce work you were proud of. To be the ones who ‘cracked it’.

But the junior teams I’ve witnessed recently are treated very differently.

They’ve been brought in to simply churn out dull, repetitious work. Cheaper, and hopefully just as fast, as the recently redundant-ed seniors.

They can’t afford to let anything messy or time-consuming (like creativity, or an idea) get in the way. They’re briefed to crank it through on the process conveyor belt and get it out again as quickly as possible.

To make maximum money for the shareholders, I presume.

Even an old idea engineer like me finds it a slog to keep producing the best, shiniest things hour after hour, quickly and efficiently. Or to fix, polish and re-oil the stuff that’s been spannered by account teams and broken by clients.

But because I have years of experience, I can deliver the goods pretty smoothly. I know it’s not going to win me any awards, but I can take pride in it as a professional.

So, what about the junior teams who are thrown onto the factory floor?

From my observations, it’s bloody terrible. And it’s creating terrible work, while the creatives have a terrible time doing it.

You can forget the craft of copywriting for a start. And I’m not just being an old has-been, harping on about mis-spellings and grammatical errors – although I’ve seen plenty of those get past client approval stage, sadly.

There seems to be no care. No love. No passion for communicating with wit or engaging a customer emotionally.

Or maybe there is no time for that any more?

What was once an inspiring, exciting industry has transformed into one that acts and operates like a large, dull factory. (Apologies if you work in a factory and find it stimulating and amusing. Please feel free to add your factory anecdotes below.)

So, all the supposed optimum targeting that digital has given us – being able to deliver the right message at the best time to personally connect or make a sale — actually means nothing.

Because the messages churned out are boring, tired, samey. Easy to disregard.

I don’t blame the junior creatives entirely for this dulldom. They are no doubt doing their best in a commoditized* world where the bean counters took control. They were just the cheap labour solution. And I’m sure the bean counters are now happily rubbing their beans together.

But from what I’ve seen, it’s leaving a massive skills gap. Because no one has time to inspire the love of communication or copywriting.

Creative directors are time pressured and sprint from meeting to meeting. No time to help train up the new junior. They barely have time to properly assess and approve the creative work.

If there is an experienced midweight team still left in the department, they’ll have to account for every billable hour on their timesheets. Spending time overseeing the junior and putting those hours against the associated job numbers would no doubt impact the all-important profits.

So who has time for these young creatives? No one as far as I can see. They are left to their own scant resources.

Some of the writing I’ve seen go out of agency doors is very, very bad. Clients reject copy, and in some cases, even write it themselves. Which is pretty dispiriting.

How did the industry end up like this?

Back when I was on junior placement at BMP, I remember how difficult it was to get creative approval for just one sentence of copy. I must’ve been in to see the senior team four or more times to hear how I could improve the phrase. To create 25 words of pristine perfection.

It was often excruciating. It was definitely time-consuming.

But I was learning. Every word should matter. Every full stop should pull its weight.

Now the creative values that once made our business so fantastic are seen as unprofitable. And I wonder who will eventually account for that.

*Here your amusement (or not): Commoditization is defined as the process by which goods that have economic value and are distinguishable in terms of attributes (uniqueness or brand) end up becoming simple commodities in the eyes of the market or consumers.

In this case, that’s the clients who pay for the agency’s supposed expertise.

And here’s the Paul Belford article that inspired me to finally get all this down: Creatives get better with age

17 thoughts on “Time.

  1. David Barnes says:

    Society has a miserable obsession with speed and youth. No space left for experience and careful thought.

    And look where it’s left us.

    David Ogilvy and Bill Bernbach joined the advertising industry at 38.

    These days, they’d already be on the way out.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. jacqueline S says:

      I just don’t know where this will end. Maybe in AI copywriting :/


      1. George says:

        Sadly, ‘they’ are already working on it:


      2. jacqueline S says:

        I’d heard about this. It’s no joke, is it?


  2. tim bennett says:

    There is a misconception that experienced creatives like me are set in their ways, rest on their laurels and are disconnected. Well I dunno, I still want to be better than the best. I still want to shine and haven’t stopped learning, and I still want to make ideas work brilliantly whatever brief I’m given, in whatever medium for whatever client.


    1. jacqueline S says:

      Agreed Tim. I want to keep on learning and I’m inspired by any new advances in communication rather than threatened by them.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Jason_B says:

    Pretty hard to pin the demise of creativity on one thing – one thing for sure (at first) digital agencies lowered the price and standards for what was considered good enough to put out in public. At the same time the British D&AD decided to stop being exclusive and British and followed the Cannes model, becoming global and all inclusive – seeking more entries in many more categories. I answered the Call for Entries brief that year when they made the global shift. They sought survival and relevance, but I feel they abandoned what was actually the best thing about them. Exclusivity. Britishness. D&AD’s superiority was unquestionable. We played it differently here (UK) and it was the best place in the world to do original work. Now it seems we play the same game as everyone else and our work has suffered greatly. Now we too, applaud and award the greatest self-publicists not the greatest creatives. We all know the best creatives are the ones who have their heads down and just get on with it. Polishing, crafting and bettering what’s been done before. Our industry rags focus too much on division and politics in advertising. Digital v ATL, Traditional v Tech, Old v Young, Male v Female. All that’s ever mattered is good work v bad work.


    1. jacqueline S says:

      Thanks for adding your thoughts Jason. I agree there are many factors that have altered the balance of the industry. I embrace change … Maybe these are the birth pangs of something new and better on its way? I definitely feel that proper creative mentoring should make a come back.


  4. Andrew Crosthwaite says:

    A little bit of background on Araldite. The poster was put up in 1983. Pravda referenced it as a sign that the UK economy was in such poor state that Ford was having to do this to sell cars. I remember a couple of years later the client expressed their gratitude by firing the agency and redirecting the budget into small space ads in Dovetail Joint Monthly.
    To further depress you only 5% of employees in IPA agencies are aged over 50.


    1. jacqueline S says:

      Thanks for that Andrew… I think 😦


  5. Dave Squires says:

    Insightful and informed piece, Jac, if a little depressing. But, hey, that’s the world we live in. Chin up, I say, the pendulum may swing back when the quality vacuum becomes boring.


    1. jacqueline S says:

      Cheers Dave. It would be great to live through the advertising renaissance 🙂


  6. I appreciate the thought and insight of this post. Also, I am very tickled by the imagery of bean counters rubbing their beans together. I picture a high-rise corporate conference room with people in expensive suits amid bunches of overflowing piles of beans in a scene bearing a suspicious resemblance to Scrooge McDuck’s money bin (…except with beans 🙂 )


    1. jacqueline S says:

      Ha! Your vision is almost correct! 😀 It’s true the suits are expensive, the corporate greed is real, but the beans are sadly metaphorical.


      1. Lol, I know, but it cracks me up to picture it with actual beans. And yes, the greed is far too real. So many things suffer at the hands of others’ greed.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Sad.
    Seems to be the trend globally: strip away time and resources but expect the same product/output or better.

    And in terms of great copy, being creative, I’m constantly disappointed by what I see online and TV, although radio can be slightly better. Some YouTube ads at least try and engage and do something different.

    What was once an inspiring, exciting industry has transformed into one that acts and operates like a large, dull factory. (Apologies if you work in a factory and find it stimulating and amusing < had a laugh at that 🙂


  8. jacqueline S says:

    Ha! Sometimes it does feel like a factory with production lines :/ Creative thinking (in the written word) and persuasive, insightful copy is getting harder to find. Thanks for your comment x


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