The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]

Part 2: You Can’t Move Forward When You’re Looking Through The Rear View Mirror …

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.

They’re not.

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.


Part 1: You Can’t Move Forward When You’re Looking Through The Rear View Mirror …

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 this post – and the comments – to remove the name of the person I am responding to because it is not fair he is being quoted when his words have not yet gone into the public domain. Sorry.
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This is going to be a long post.

OK, I know all my posts are long, but this is going to be epically long.

It’s so long, I’m actually going to split it over 2 days. No, seriously.

Before you dismiss it, please read a little more, because I am hoping you’ll be a part of it … and I don’t mean in terms of just taking the piss out of me.

So a few months ago, I was asked to comment on a piece by a global Chief Creative Officer of a global network agency, on how the ad industry can attract young creative talent.

Today I’m going to post his perspective and tomorrow I’ll post my response.

It’s a serious and major issue so if you can find it in your hearts to actually respond to it seriously, I’d be grateful. Who am I kidding, since when has that ever made you do something?

OK, so this is how the CCO see’s the situation.


On my first day at my first job, my boss asked me if I had read any of a list of literary masterpieces: Slaughterhouse 5, Catch 22 and a host of others. I hadn’t. And a few days later, he presented me with a gift for my ignorance: a stack of more than a dozen classic novels that I had not yet read.

A bit later in my career, I met Bob Isherwood, the first global creative director I ever really had access to as a young creative at Saatchi. From Bob, I witnessed firsthand how one bold and determined mind could influence a global network. His confidence, his willingness to take on risks and his ability to think without limitations still inspire my management and creative philosophies today.

These were some of the earliest instances I can point to in my career of the meaningful impact a seasoned creative’s guidance, wisdom and open arms, ears and door can have on a young creative’s journey.

There are so many people who have helped me throughout my career and now as a slightly more “experienced” creative, I have the honorable and gratifying opportunity to pay it forward and be for young creatives the kind of mentor and guide I had at their age. It’s a responsibility I’ve been proud to take on throughout my career.

But a lot has changed since my days as a fledgling creative. The young creatives of today are not the young creatives of my day.

Our responsibility, as advertisers and as creative leaders who value great work, is to make sure we get the great people to make that work, but in the past few years, there has been endless chatter about advertising’s talent crisis. The industry’s most popular publications have sounded off with theories dissecting why the ad world is no longer attracting and retaining the young talent it used to.

It’s clear that despite the importance we place on phenomenal work and despite the pressure we put on ourselves and our teams to make work that is innovative, boundary-breaking and reflective of the times, we do not pursue young creative talent with the same ferocity. We have not reworked our recruitment processes to accommodate and cater to the needs of the modern young creative. Our search for the young creative is not nearly as imaginative as the work we expect them to create.

And that is a serious mistake.

Young talent should be pursued like an all-agency brief. This next generation of CCOs, ECDs and Senior Art Directors are the future of advertising and failing to nurture, support and engage this group means we are opting out of an essential investment in advertising’s future and a vital opportunity to have a hand in the direction of creative work in the industry.

Every day young talent finds it way to the Facebooks and Googles of the world, and if we want to win them back; we have to work for it. How can our industry remain viable in the coming years if we do not invest in the creative minds of the future?

I am lucky to work for an agency that is aggressive, innovative and progressive in the ways it pursues young creative talent.

In 2014, we answered the long-heard call for more female creative leadership in the industry with the launch of a scholarship scheme. The scholarship, designed to support young, aspiring female creatives around the world, awards five individual annual scholarships and gives recipients paid internship placements at our offices.

This year, we launched another program, a global internship geared towards finding and nurturing talent in the next generation of creative minds, giving young professionals from Hong Kong to São Paulo the chance to work in an active agency setting, work on live briefs and collaborate with our network of experienced and talented teams.

Another of our internal programs, is an inclusive program that gives every office and every employee the opportunity to develop and share creative solutions for a live brief. These briefs are unique because they are formed under the assumption and, quite honestly, the new modern reality that great creative ideas don’t just come from the copywriter and art director. It forces us to undo our understanding of the traditional creative team and, ultimately, allows us to give a chance to the young account manager who might not have ever had the opportunity to stretch his creative legs. It pushes us to find creative gems under new rocks; to look beyond the creative department for the next generation’s creative minds.

The Millennials that make up today’s creative talent pool are drawn to culture and they’re keen on working for brands that have a social purpose that makes them feel like they’re making a difference. We need our agencies to build this kind of culture because our competitors are. And Millennials who feel the need to move from one place to another to build their careers, need this type of culture to stay long-term.

Beyond the theories and hypothesizing, I believe every advertiser needs to address the following questions to unlock the ever elusive but highly coveted young creative talent.

How are we stacking up against the ever-growing and ever-compelling tech industry in the eyes of young talent?

How are we making ourselves competitive in a marketplace that places the youth at the center of their crosshairs?

How have we shifted our understanding and engagement young talent to accommodate the new reality?

We won’t solve this issue overnight. But we can’t sleep until we do.


What do you think?

Fair? Naive? Have you got any better suggestions?

Regardless, tomorrow you’ll see how I replied – whether you like it or not. Ha.

But Don’t Follow This Guy …
July 27, 2016, 6:20 am
Filed under: Comment

… after yesterday’s post about what we can learn about developing and selling ideas from people who have made great ideas happen, I was sent this.

For the record, this is NOT the sort of person I am talking about.

Look, I don’t know him and I am sure he’s super successful … but the other thing that I found interesting from the people I listened to at the conference was none of them described themselves as an ‘entrepreneur’.

Each of the people I listened to seemed to have some sort of personal value being exercised through what they created. Maybe entrepreneurs do this too, but in my experience, they tend to follow the financial opportunity rather than try to marry it to their own beliefs and vision.

Could be wrong – let’s face it, I probably am – but I just found it interesting none of them – literally none – used the word entrepreneur to describe themselves.

The Bullshit Of Big …

So a few months ago, I was invited to talk at a conference about ‘ideas’.

Yeah … I know, it’s all been said and done before, but the reality is a good idea is still the only legal means to counter distribution, history and cash.

The issue is a lot of the ideas being spoken about are not ideas, they’re attempts at hype.

The ad industry is notoriously bad at this, often confusing an ad idea with an idea or worse, confusing bollocks, with genius.

Anyway, while I was there, I got to hear a bunch of great people speak – people who have built sustainable businesses through genuine breakthrough ideas – and despite them covering a whole range of industries, there was one thing that was common to them all.

Their idea made sense.

They could describe it in a few words.

And while it’s true some of their ideas required massive infrastructure change before they would see success, at the heart of it, their idea was something simple and – to a certain degree – obvious.

Each one had tackled a real problem, not a marketing problem.

Each one had looked for what the audience didn’t like rather than improving what they did.

Each one was able to be utterly focused on what was the key deliverable to increase the odds of success.

Each one ensured the execution of their idea was as intuitive as possible to minimise the gap between the old ways and the new.

These 4 things helped them get investment.

These 4 things helped them get other people to share their enthusiasm for their idea.

These 4 things helped them build a business that disrupted the category to define the category.

It sounds so bloody simple and yet so few people are actually any good at doing it.

Sure, there’s a whole host of other factors that go on behind the scenes to make it happen … and they all talked about the stresses and failures they had along the way … but what really struck me was that regardless whether they had developed a new car brand or a new way for youth to interact, each and every one of them described their idea in a way that made sense.

Now compare that to some of the ideas we see from our industry …

Pegs that use weather aggregation technology to tell you when it is best to wash your clothes.

Plates that use holes to drain 30 calories of fat from each meal.

Caps that help blind paralympic swimmers, swim.

There’s a reason they end up as scam because no venture capitalist worth their salt would invest in them.

I know there are many, many brilliant people in this industry.

I know there are many brilliant ideas that can be turned into something phenomenal for brands and business.

But maybe it would help the whole industry if we stopped thinking we were the Idea Kings and learnt from the people who have made it happen … because while it seems what they have achieved is incredible, their genius is that they made is sound utterly acceptable and inclusive.

It’s Like He Was Talking About The Ad Industry. Or Pundits On China …
July 25, 2016, 6:15 am
Filed under: A Bit Of Inspiration, Craft, Management

The older I get the more I realise that life is a battle between holding on to the things you believe in and allowing yourself be engaged and entertained by the things that challenge all you believe.

My Mum was particularly good at this …

She had an incredible ability to stay open minded to all that surrounded her … ensuring as she went forward in life, she was never left behind but also never walked away from things that time, experience and consideration had taught her were of real value.

But here’s the thing …

She never went along with what was happening simply because it was happening, she invested time in it to make sure she knew what it was, why it was happening and what it would mean for her.

I say this because I feel the ad industry has for years, chased after the newest new thing to appear relevant, without ever actually considering what to do with it to make it work for them.

In essence, it’s relevance by association.

Or worse, it’s about stealing from culture rather than adding to it.

I cannot tell you the amount of times I’ve read a piece from someone in adland proclaiming they are geniuses when all they’ve actually done is repurpose something that has been in existence for years.

The irony of adland is that we talk about the future but we hold doggedly to the past.

Some of this is not entirely our fault – there is the small fact that the remuneration structure many clients insist on, is designed to keep things the same rather than drive innovation in thinking, technique and approach – but at it’s heart, many of the problems we face are problems we actively helped create, which is why unless we are willing to break the cycle, the only winner in this whole sorry situation will be Alvin Toffler’s credibility.

It’s up to us.