They aren't a comfortable pillow, believe me.
This blog was originally started with selfish reasons (aren't they all, to begin with?) I wanted to get into the ad business, and I wanted to be heard. Happily, it worked.
Now, as time went on, the need to stop people doing what I did (or learning from what went well and why) became more of a primary focus. So much, in fact, that it helped spawn AdGrads, and I'm delighted that it continues to help people into the business.
It helps throw the curtains open and show (I hope), just what goes on the murky communication world, and what agencies are really looking for, even if they don't always say.
However, there's still an itch on my part - there are some massive, massive barriers that the creative industries suffer from, and this is sort of a plea to my readers to help out:
1) Staffed by people "like me"
I am white, middle class and British. I don't have data to hand, but people like me make up the overwhelming majority of the UK advertising industry. I'd like to say this is fine. I really would. But I can't. If you get people who think the same, act the same, go to the same places, live in the same area, you get vanilla work. It's not helped by archaic agencies only allowing those who are vaguely related to people who work there get work experience.
Now, I can't help my background (having spent most of my degree course apologising, it would seem, for being responsible for the world's literary ills, and I don't mean my shoddy undergrad essays), but I recognise that diversity is not just an old, old wooden ship, and will lead to more interesting places to work, and better, more focused work.
2) Economy and Geography
It is BLOODY expensive to move to London, and it is hard to relocate to a big city where you know few people. The web's helped to minimise this, to some degree, but if you're not from the South East, you have a far harder time getting into the industry, especially given pretty piss-poor starting salaries (yes, they get better, but £18k when your flat costs £550 a month before bills means you'd better love free museums in the first year in the business).
This needs to change in some way shape or form - people need to have a way of justifying being paid just a little bit more, and the comms world needs to see beyond the borders of Kent or Surrey when it recruits. A broader recruitment policy, and paying just a few thousand pounds more would help a great deal.
3) Prizing academic qualifications over practical ability
I've met an awful lot of Oxbridge graduates since working in communications. Many are bright, erudite (as you'd expect) and well suited to their jobs. But, on the other end of the scale, i've met those who really, really aren't - there's no hunger, no passion or fire, and no real interest in the career. They signed up because they wanted an academic exercise and aren't sure what to do with themselves. Some should be academics. Some should just do something else.
And, given what I know about how agencies recruit, red brick University status shouldn't be everything. The IPA have done their bit with Diagonal Thinking, but more needs to go on. There needs to be more stories of people starting in the post room and working up. The comms industry needs to get better at marketing itself - there's a curious reluctance to, partly because whenever a camera comes into one, agency people behave like tits, and parts of the job seem faintly unreal to those who spend their days in front of organograms and spreadsheets.
4) Lacking hunger
Through AdGrads, I've met an awful lot of people who want to get into comms. Some are very bright, others who aren't as bright but are damned persistent, and those with the magic combination of both.
Part of it is because the industry doesn't promote itself very well - so those who are genuinely bright aren't as hungry as they perhaps need to be because they don't know the ins and outs of the job. Generally though, whilst it's easy to decry passion as being somehow a misdirected trait, I want to see people who will turn their hand to anything. It's more important than a first in your degree. The future belongs to people who care about what they're going to do - you can always teach people the basics, but you can't teach them how to explore new things. That's born, not made.
What you can do
Now, with all of this said, I had a very interesting meeting last week. It appears there are other people who are committed to coming up with a solution to those four problems, rather than just blogging about it, like yours truly.
I met a man called Marc Lewis, who is Dean of the newly (re)formed School of Communication Arts. Marc was the last scholarship student of the school when it existed in its previous incarnation. A successful career later, and he's now committed to helping break down those barriers by encouraging those who'd have been put off otherwise to apply for his school's accredited qualification. They accept scholarship pupils, and encourage entrepreneurial folk to get involved - watch the video on the site to understand more.
Now, the reason this post is on WAM rather than AdGrads is because it concerns you, dear reader. Their syllabus is written entirely by wiki by people who are currently in the industry. They are not far off from opening for a new term, and need YOU. You can do as much or as little as you'd like, which is always a good thing. I've signed up, and think you should too. Have a look here.
After all - I want to be sure the industry's still in rude health, and finds the best people. Who knows? You may end up employing some of the school's alumni.