Saturday, May 15, 2010

Far too important to leave to chance..

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.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Time, Time, Time..

The title of the post allows me a spot of Waits. Good stuff.

How long is too long? Does it really take weeks and months to write a thoughtful piece of creative work? What would happen if we tightened the screws and made it days and weeks? Why do some people need years to summon up the courage to tell someone they love them?

Flipping it - when does quality begin to suffer with not enough time? Coming up with a decent creative solution shouldn't be like keeping battery hens and expecting a golden egg every time.

I'd think that this would vary depending on who you asked, like the Tom Waits song of the same name. Account handlers would always like more time. They are those who are often placed in battery hen situations, and it's nice when you have a select few who can rise above it and see the blue skies. I think the reverse happens to planners, in truth. We don't often have particularly concrete deadlines for our work (save pitches and big bits of client scheduling).

And, as the Fast Strategy conferences touched upon, there may be some merit in speeding up the whole planning process now and then. You can have too long to think about something. I bring this up because, well, PR planning has a lot less time than Advertising. You get a month to pitch? We get two weeks. When faced with this sort of thing, it's easy to understand why there's a historical divide between the two disciplines.

Personally, i've always been an advocate of it taking as long as it takes. Yes, I know that sounds incredibly woolly, but to assume that you can come up with anything more than a semi-decent strategy in a day is fallacious. I think the bosses i've ever worked for have understood this - you can come up with a piece of thinking on Sunday that's infinitely better than a week's worth of work when you're obviously trying to think about it.

Strategic thinking's not a linear process, and any job which is actively engaged with the creative process should recognise this. It's not a simple matter of hot housing ideas or thinking. It's about doing stuff to take your mind of it, often. Cwoffee is an extension of this, or even something like my banal twitter account. The aim of both is almost to take my mind off the day job, so I can allow my unconscious mind to chug along to a more interesting solution.

It's also why it's so heartening to realise that most marketeers are beginning to reject the notion of a straightforward purchase funnel. Real life isn't like this, so why the hell should a 'buying process' really exist? It's comforting, but it's damned wrong. It's why the idea of lining up or organising your organisation like a client troubles me; we're The Agency. We are the people who should surprise, shock or delight their clients. Not mirror them. If clients can mildly ape what we can with some talented staff writers and Mac-ites, then proper lateral thinking is the best weapon we have. To foster that, we need to not be tied to being a little sub-client doing factory which you find in many of the agency client relationships around the world.

And when this comes to media, as discussed before, it really puts a lot of the big buying shops under the microscope. Why would you bulk buy media packages? Why wouldn't you be more reactive and creative? To buy even a series of TV spots around a certain type of programming ever more looks like you're spunking money up the wall. Find out where people are inspired and reactively buy. This jars horrendously with the big meeja agency shop's principle of having largely junior staff to fill in spreadsheets and bulk buy, with a smattering of senior staff overseeing the process. Why wouldn't you entrust where the message goes to those who come up with the creative messaging, and actually have RESEARCHED the audience, rather than some limp and out of date dataset which tells you nothing more than what people who like filling in research said, at best, six months ago?

With all of that said, I don't think being thoughtful and being fast are as oil and water as many seem to think they are. To have a set of base principles which inform upon action, which are flexible enough to allow new discoveries to change things (in much the same way Nokia changed its focus from engineering to mobiles many moons ago) seems to be the way to go. To rely on a silo to ensure business success has never seemed so inapt.
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