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 and re-oil the stuff that’s been poked at by account teams and broken by clients.
But because I have years of experience, I can get out serviceable goods pretty smoothly. I know it’s not going to win me any awards, but I can still 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