Career suicide.

A couple of apparently unconnected things happened in the last few months, out there in media land, that have a hit a chord if you happen to be a seasoned creative of the ‘pale and male’ persuasion.

Firstly in June, at Cannes Lions, the wonderful ‘Project 84’ scooped a gazillion Lions for the Campaign Against Living Miserably. A haunting and yet beautiful depiction of suicide rates in the UK, showing 84 men perched on the side of a sky scraper in central London.

The idea, in case you missed it, helped raise the profile of the epidemic in male suicide, 84 men between under the age of 40 kill themselves every week.

Suicide is the single biggest killer of men under forty. Not Cancer, not Diabetes, not car crashes.

I know a bit about the senseless waste, the inner trauma that nobody spots when its shrouded in a happy go lucky outer shell

My best friend, when I was thirty two and he was thirty four, with four sons and a wife, took his own life with some rope and a beam in his garden shed. I also know a little about the mess that’s left behind.

What leads these men to opt out? it varies. Clinical depression, broken marriages a general sense of hopelessness.

Maybe even losing a job.

On a completely different and far more ‘woke’ topic there was the news that Jo Wallace, A Creative Director at JWT London had declared  war on the white middle aged heterosexual man. What she called the ‘Knightsbridge boys club’.

Enough of this MadMen culture! We need more diversity!

Watch out chaps!

Next thing we know, a bunch of them are being made um…well…let’s call it ‘redundant‘.

(I know a little about this predicament, as it’s ten years since I left Havas in what one might call ‘a hurry’.)

And now guess what, these same creatives (all older and white and heterosexual of course) have mounted a discrimination law suit against JWT.

Oh dear, poor old JWT can’t seem to get it right. One minute their CEO is being ousted for inappropriate behaviour and the next they’re being too zealous with the whole ‘woke’ strategy.

To be fair JWT refute the allegations of discrimination. They maintain that there had been a spate of redundancies and it made sense that if the majority of the department are pale and male, let alone stale, then there would be a bias towards them. Ok, I get that.

But you have to admit, the timing of Jo Wallace’s speech could have been a lot less Gerald Ratnery.

Positive discrimination is all well and good but can be done without a callous attitude to other people, people with children, homes and mortgages.

These are the same people who have spent a lifetime hawking their student book around town, carving out a career and working their buts off, with weekends and public holidays spent in the office not seeing their families just to do some nice work and keep their jobs.

If Jo Wallace should be anti anything she should be anti-notalent.

Now, granted, we have had a good run, us white middle aged heterosexual men. It cannot be denied.

I just wonder if this is the way to change things.

In a world where talent should be the defining factor in job retention, or indeed progression, being discriminated against because of colour, age or gender is unacceptable.

Shouldn’t that include the pale and male? Even if that’s only what it looks like.

When JWT start hiring again this might severely limit the number of rocks she can look under for talent.

I started googling and found this article in Campaign magazine from 2016 by Rooney Carruthers who asked the question ‘what next for the over 45 year old creative?’

He writes of an older creative who had recently been made ‘redundant’ and taken his own life.

Now, I don’t want to be over dramatic. Lots of these so called stale creatives will find work and not just in top twenty agencies.

But this is serious shit. It’s not a game you should be able to play just to meet diversity quotas, no matter how important diversity is.

And the truth is, the advertising industry has its own natural attrition. (Many of us get fed up with the level of idiot bellends and selling sugar to kids.)

True diversity can and should be fed from the bottom up, filtering people in to the industry through talent first.

Yet minorities of all descriptions very often don’t see adland as a realistic career choice.

That’s why schemes like the Creative Floor are so important, they do incredible work to encourage people who wouldn’t otherwise consider it, or otherwise struggle to find a way in, through their talent and diversity fund.

That’s where the answer lies and when they have gained the knowledge and honed their talents, and creative people from all walks of life see adland as an option the shape of agencies will be truly diverse and packed full of talent.

Happy International Men’s day everyone.

 

 

 

 

 

Why you must learn to hate your own ideas.

Of course most people like their own ideas, sometimes none more so than creative people themselves.

I’m sure the person who came up with the term ideation was delighted with it.

But what a lot of people, and by that I mean the idea-toting non-creative wing of adland, may struggle with (only because it takes time and experience to learn), is knowing how an idea will actually work or how to make it work, or what it will look like when you’ve done it and how it will be perceived once you’ve had it.

Add to that whether the idea is doable in the time, within budget, and won’t simply look stupid or in poor taste.

People tend to think in terms of scenarios. ‘How about a woman who is having trouble reading the small print on a menu while on a first date.’ is a perfectly reasonable scenario in film, but almost impossible in a still. It’s probably just a woman squinting at a menu.

It’s as hard as knowing if you’ve just had a good idea or not. In fact, arguably that’s what a good idea is.

It’s why we still have creatives, and we still have creative directors (for the moment) and it’s why a creative person’s idea is often – not always – been through their own internal creative director’s office, before it even makes it to a ‘what do you think of this?’ in the open air.

Because an instant love for our own ideas has been tempered by the crushing disappointment of other people’s opinions and a desire to do the kind of work that gets them their next job.

As a creative you start out with a raw talent, ideally, if it hasn’t been beaten out of you by your education system, parental pressure for you to find a proper job or the desire for qualifications in History and Maths.

You take this raw talent, tout your book of ideas around town and after about a year of people hating your ideas, eventually you start doing better ones, then quite good ones and then hopefully a few stonking ones and then, if you are in the right place at the right time, someone will recognise talent it in you and give you a job.

You then spend those first ten or twenty difficult years learning what those ideas that pop in to your head actually mean and how you can turn them in to something. But with practice you get really good at deciphering the bad ideas from good, the practical from the impossible and so on, almost instantly. You don’t always get it right, but it’s a process that takes time to learn.

That experience is hard won, but that expertise is what clients pay for without even really considering it, not just the talent of coming up with them.

It comes with the daily agonising process of coming up with ideas and seeing most of them dismissed.

The problem is, none of that is on show when you present work. It appears that you are just showing a bunch of random ideas that you just whipped up in a couple of days.

Sure looks easy. Let’s all have a go, it’s fun.

But all the years of internal deciphering wheat from chaff is what has led you to this point, not a couple of hours in a brainstorm or scribbling on a pad.

There’s probably a sperm and egg analogy here but I’ll leave it at that.

The famous photographer David Bailey, when asked how he could charge 20k for a day’s shoot when he completed the shoot in a couple of hours, allegedly replied “this didn’t take me two hours it took me twenty years”.

I am not sure if he stole this reply from Picasso who was said to have offered to sign a napkin for 20k on the basis that it wasn’t the minute it took to sign it, it was about the fifty years he had spent making it worth signing.

Experience matters in creativity, almost as much as no experience.

So now if you are a ‘non-creative’ and you think your idea is a way better than what you’ve seen, just ask yourself whether you like it because it’s yours or because it’s actually better.

Because judging your own ideas is different to judging someone elses work. Objectivity is a huge factor in judging others’ ideas.

Judging your own ideas is really hard. And it’s important to judge them as if your career were to be judged on it.

That’s not to say your idea isn’t any good, by the way. But you owe that CD a listen as to why it may not be.

I’ve found the best clients or ‘non-creatives’ can offer ideas and lines but are usually also pretty good at taking push back if the CD (in a sudden role reversal) doesn’t think it’s right. As are the best kind of creatives.

The worst kind of client just want you to do it their way.

Mutual respect is important in a client agency relationship and that includes ideas.

What is usually more helpful to hear from the client side is ‘I think your idea is wrong or not doing enough of this or that. How can the agency solve it?’

The more prescriptive you are the harder it is for agencies to crack the problem.

So it doesn’t mean your ‘I’m not a copywriter but…’ idea isn’t any good. It just depends on how you regard it. Does your idea have some kind of special golden ticket as it’s yours? do you have so few ideas that when you come up with one it needs to be curated like an ancient artifact?

Or is it an idea that deserves the same scrutiny that all ideas, from whatever source they derive from, should expect to receive.

So, let’s assume IT IS a great idea.

Has it been done before? Will it look different and stand out. Will it fit brand guidelines? Is too complicated?

Making sense is only the first step.

Because you may be a CEO or a CMO or even a brand manager or planner or agency suit and your idea may be fantastic. But creatively speaking, if you haven’t spent some time learning these creative ropes, it’s an idea from a junior creative.

In other words, someone who hasn’t learned to reject their own ideas yet.

If you can accept that, then ideate away my friends.

Is Pharmaland a one way ticket?

I recently had a phone conversation with a Creative guy who was uncertain about a move to a CD role in Pharmaland.

He had some legitimate concerns.

Would he be forever labelled as a ‘pharma-creative’ with all the mediocrity that that would imply. Could he ever get back in to consumerland after having the ‘Pharma stink’ on his clothes?

He didn’t put it like that but it’s what he meant.

I remember from my days in consumer the disdain that all self-respecting-ATL creatives had at the time for the lower divisions.

By the lower divisions I mean the BTL lot, the Direct lot, the Digital lot, the global lot.

You know…what all creatives are nowadays.

It wasn’t overt, but when a creative left to join a healthcare agency there was always the same reaction, a mixture of pity and there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-like thankfulness it wasn’t you (yet). Like the scene in THE GREAT ESCAPE where the little Scottish guy runs at the fencing shouting “I cannee take it any more!!!” before getting gunned down by the guards.

We looked up, nodded them a farewell and returned solemnly to our desks writing ideas that would never make it beyond a special account handling department file labelled ‘Meeting fodder‘.

This was the life!

As I spoke with my new consumer-creative acquaintance I even surprised myself with my now solidified passion for Pharma, now that there is clear water between my old career and this one, it seems I have gone native.

And what’s worse, I don’t even care.

Because what’s so great about consumer these days? have you seen the work that is on our outdoor posters recently? have you watched a TV break? when was the last time you asked anyone if they saw ‘that ad’ last night.

Believe it or not, that used to happen a lot.

Sadly, the most memorable ad of late is probably the diabolical Pepsi debacle.

Maybe the ‘content pieces’ that seem to emerge from somewhere or other and find their way on to your Facebook page are all that’s left of a once heavily populated ocean of opportunities, deftly avoiding months of focus groups and re-briefs. Occasionally there is the odd socially motivated film that gets shared, about how we should all just get along and have a beer (insert brand). That kind of thing. Fair enough.

There are some great humanitarian campaigns about empowering girls, or teaching the world to read.

I’m sure there are some other great campaigns but I can’t really remember them.

So, I wonder why a consumer advertising career is still attractive to a young creative person. It’s now much more about tactical thinking, direct targeting and content platforms than it is about launching new brands to the world. That’s much like Pharma, but we still get to launch brands all the time.

And consumer-land isn’t even much of a haven for heavy drinkers anymore.

These days many of the restrictions and legal limitations that a consumer brand faces are similar to those in healthcare, at least creatively speaking. No use of clever language please, no regional in-jokes etc because the world wants global ideas.

(Customers don’t want or need global ideas, but corporations do.)

Ok, so Pharma has a bunch more self-imposed restrictions than just that but the creative opportunities, when they arise, are just as potent.

It’s all about what you do, as a creative, with those opportunities. And recognising them as such in the first place.

Okay, you counter –  it’s the clients and target markets that are worse in Pharmaland. They’re very literal and unsophisticated (never understood why) and obviously consumer clients are more media-savvy and braver.

Can they be any worse than whoever insisted upon or bought and signed off these attempts? It seems now its quicker to bypass creative teams and go straight from brief to production.

So much for the un-shackled glamour and creative opportunities of a career in consumer. At least in Pharmaland there are no pack shots, (just big logos) to substitute for an idea.

Anyway, back to my creative guy: I just heard he accepted the job. Good for him.

He’ll find that Pharmaland isn’t a land devoid of budgets, cool people or creativity.

There are some cool people and creativity.

Ok, definitely creativity.

Occasionally.

And if it is a one way ticket, then that suits me fine.

 

 

The 50+ guide to surviving advertising.(extended edition)

It hit me a couple of years ago many of my friends and ex-work colleagues started to turn fifty.

I was at one such one event, standing outside a pub in Berwick street, and I realised everyone was of a certain vintage, all still talented, all still enthusiastically talking about the work they were doing, almost none of them in full time agency employment any more.

These were men and women, like myself at one time, who had either found themselves tipping over the point where ad agencies see the value in them, or had decided to leave full time employment or were encouraged to leave or had accidentally left, rejoined and then left again anyway.

Maybe their faces didn’t fit any more. Maybe it was their Levi’s or mini skirts.

So what happens to people over 50 in adland? where do we all go? It seems nobody knows.

In last week’s Campaign John Hegarty is interviewed on this subject, a fine example of longevity in the business if ever there was one, and the article highlighted a worrying yet unsurprising statistic.

The average age of ad agency staff is 33.7

So what do you do if your nose hairs have started to need an industrial strimmer and your facebook page is full of TENA posts?

It all seemed so simple when you started out, freshed faced, doing placements for a year or two, followed by years of lost weekends and late nights, awards and promotions, adulation and nicer cars, till you’re sipping cocktails in the whisky bar in the Sunset Marquee thinking you are hot-bloody-shit.

I suspect that a lot of the agency average age thing is down to natural attrition, some people just get fed up with all the bullshit. And there is a lot of bullshit that no cocktail can dilute, and like global warming it melts part of your personal polar ice cap every year until all that’s left is a rocky island and a couple of penguins wondering what happened to all the snow.

So let’s talk choices.

You could start your own agency. No? Well, it’s not as easy as it sounds.

Some try the foreign assignments. For the more snobby creative it used to be that ‘FILTH’ was a rather unfair accronym for that career path.

It meant Failed In London Try HongKong.

But these days Asia is far from a place to hide or cash in. According to one regional ECD ex-colleague of mine who wanted to remain nameless (for reasons best known to himself!), Singapore or China doesn’t restrict its sweatshops to small children making GAP T-shirts.

Mystery Regional Exec CD: “The older creatives who moved here years ago can struggle with the work. If you are planning on trying Asia as a career move make sure you are very digitally focused”

…he said as he headed off to start another conference call at 8pm.

Well, isn’t everywhere digital these days?

But some people just don’t see the new digital landscape as the industry they fought so hard to be a part of.

My old copywriting chum and creative partner of ten years Matt Bartley left adland a few years ago and has retrained as a nurse and is now working on a hospice ward. I asked him, somewhat disrespectfully but never one to shy away from a gag, what made him swop polishing turds for the real thing.

Matt: “Firstly, I have never regretted working in adland. Many wonderful times and, more importantly, friendships with the most bizarre and sometimes brilliant people. It is impossible to explain to people who have done ‘real work’ all their lives what it was like – so I don’t even try anymore.”

Aw, thanks Mate. I think.

“There are two main reasons I got out. 1. My understanding of a creative idea was increasingly redundant in the digital age. I spent 5 years in a digital agency and it bored me shitless. I was useful in winning pitches. I could give ’em everything from TV to shelf-wobblers, but we all knew that a dancing packshot in an online pop-up was the sum total of the client’s ambition. Digital ‘copywriters’ tended to be digital producers who could spell. I was increasingly irrelevant and, at 50+, not on anyone’s shopping list”.

Well, you can’t please everyone. And from my perspective Matt was talking about a formative time when digital largely only meant display advertising. Digital has become so much more and blurred again with trad advertising and social media to be something far more potent.

Matt: “It’s not easy describing my life now, but there is still a buzz to be had. Perhaps not quite the same buzz as snorting coke off an advertising PAs tits, but, shit, we don’t have your budgets..”

But there are options for the less altruistic among us. There is always ‘consultancy work’ or penning a novel. Or yes, finding yourself in Pharmaland where experience is still valued and the fields are green with creative opportunity.

For me, it was a revelation.

Of course there are some survivors and the ones that are, are the ones who stay hungry in any aspect of the business.

I asked the ‘mature’ legend Billy Mawhinny ex-BBH and Exec CD at JWT who now has his own successful agency, about survival as a ‘senior’ creative.

Billy: The best career advice I ever heard was given to me by Terence Donovan. In that wonderful cultured cockney tone he said “Do something you love and get somebody to pay you for it.” Unfortunately I wasn’t good enough to play for Man United and the Beatles had a drummer so I took up colouring in.

I truly love it as much as I did when I started, now over 40 years ago. I believe it’s that naivety that I can solve anything and unbeatable enthusiasm that has kept me working.

John Hegarty once talked about the Catholic Work ethic and I had to disagree with him in the nicest possible way.Certainly in Ireland, and without the slightest hint of sectarianism on my part, it was referred to as the Protestant Work Ethic.Mostly because of the Industry and Ship Yards of the North. I knew I was no John Hegarty so I decided, very early on, that no one would ever work harder than me.

Protestant or Catholic it has never left me. I also refuse to be intimidated by fashion and what’s new. Bill Bernbach was asked in the early 60’s what Advertising would be like in 20 years time. He said it would be the same in 20 years and it was 20 years ago. People with the power to touch people would be successful and people with out that power won’t. All that and a young loving, energetic family will keep me forever young.

But let’s be honest, for some of us it is hard to be as ravenous as you were when you were 25. Those lost weekends in the office get harder to sacrifice.

After all, that lawn won’t mow itself.

Finding yourself suddenly without an expensable cocktail in your hand and paying for your own hotel bill, what most do is turn to freelance.

But there’s a funny thing that is true of freelance that I found. Something that gives us old crusty creatives a trump card (if you’ll excuse the expression).

Nobody wants young cheap freelancers.

The irony is honey-sweet.

If you have a problem, you don’t need a couple of cool twenty something hipsters who may or may not crack it, who have never driven a car or don’t understand the true nature of family holidays from a parents perspective or only eat pizza and never cook or who have never had a mortgage or understand women’s bladder issues.

You need a couple of pros who can crack that problem quickly and brilliantly.

And even if that’s not you now, it probably will be.

The fact is you have to adapt, those 33.7 year olds just aren’t going to hire you unless you are going for that really big senior job where the hiring is done by the 66.7 year olds.

So get used to being that free spirit, roaming from agency to agency cracking problems big and small. And when you have to work weekends, you can even charge for it.

It comes with a certain amount of shit-shovelling, but when didn’t it?

Maybe agencies will start to see the benefit of experience, or maybe they will remain in the ‘shoreditch wanker’ mode and keep anything with a grey hair at a tatooed arms length.

But until agencies wise up to keeping and exploiting the worth of all that talent and experience, the next stage of your career could come with a good income, no stress and allow you to concentrate on doing what you enjoy doing best. Cracking problems.

My old boss always said that ‘your career is a marathon not a sprint’ and he was right.

You may have hit a wall and had to take a crap in a drain, but it’s not the end. All that training will pay off if you stick with it.

Truth is, if you’re creative there is no finish line.