Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Eight Reasons For The Lack Of Creativity In Advertising Today

When was the last time you saw a great commercial or ad on-line or off-line?  One which made you want to try the product or made you think differently about it?  One which made you really laugh or smile.  There is so much bland work out there.  Every year I look forward to Super Bowl commercials and every year, like most people, I am disappointed, although this year there were a few good spots.

Much has been written about the lack of creativity in advertising.  I thought I would take a look at it from a different point of view.  Some of what I have written may be a surprise to you.

1      1)     The Holding Companies Preclude Movement Among Them
Because each of the holding companies owns dozens of communications firms, movement between them is limited.  An employee of one WPP agency cannot easily move to another WPP Company.  This means that someone at Grey cannot move to JWT, Ogilvy, Y&R or any of their digital or PR agencies.

And while each of the holding companies has HR departments which can, with the permission of the existing company, move someone to another WPP firm, it is rare (and dangerous) for an employee to request a transfer.  Those HR people exist mostly to recruit senior people from other agencies not in their networks; they also have a minor function of moving network out of work people within the network, although, in my observation, there are few successful placements like that.

As a result the choice of new employees is ultimately limited.

2     2)    Creative Talent Has Migrated Elsewhere
Long hours and relatively low pay combined with clients who say no have driven many creatives into other businesses.  I know many creatives (including account people and strategists) who have become freelancers, opened their own business or channeled their talent elsewhere.  The consultancies are loaded with ex-advertising people.  So is Hollywood and publishing.

3     3)    Agencies Don’t Fight For The Work
There is a famous story about George Lois opening a window and threatening to climb on a ledge unless a client bought an ad.  Or Bill Bernbach’s famous retort when a client told him the copy was too long and that only 10% of the people who saw the ad would read the copy, “Then, the copy is for the ten per cent who will read it.” 

Today, agencies are afraid of the retribution from their holding company if it loses and account over creative differences. So if the client murmurs, the agency gives in quickly.  This even happens in new business presentations when agencies should be at their best and strongest. Agency creative people figure, why do cutting-edge work, it won’t get sold, anyway.

The result is the blandness we see in every medium.

4     4)    Clients Believe That One Size Fits All
Agency consolidation has seriously impeded creativity.  In order to save money, advertisers like to run the same work everywhere in the world.  However, something that works in Paris, New York or Buenos Aires may not work in Mexico or Sri Lanka.  I remember being told by a British candidate that he had a huge fight with both his English client and his agency because they wanted to run a campaign in England with a famous U.S. celebrity who was totally unknown in the United Kingdom; believe it or not, it was a major fight, ultimately won by the British agency. 

I see lots of inept commercials which were obviously made for Europeans and adapted to the United States, but make absolutely no sense here.

5     5)    Creative People Still In Silo[P1] s
Just because the people from different disciplines at related agencies show up for meetings does not mean they work well together or can even agree; worse, I hear that many of them merely show up, but obviously don’t even know each other.  Evidence is that they attend meetings and then just return to their agencies and do what they want to do anyway.  The only way agencies can be integrated is that they are all under one roof with the same reporting structure. 

Ad Agencies have been wrestling with this problem for two decades.  I just read that Publicis is mandating that its various agencies work together. LOL.

6     6)    The Consultancies Now Have A Foothold In Advertising Strategy and Execution
Execution needs to be in the hand of creative experts.  Consultants are good with paper and pen, but rarely have the ability to execute.  Most people now in the business are not old enough to remember when Marketing Corporation of America (MCA) purchased Ally & Gargano, one of the great creative ad agencies.  It was a disaster.  In fact, Tom Messner, Barry Vetere, Ron Berger, who were creative directors of that agency, all left that agency to start MVBMS, now (several mergers and name changes later) HAVAS. They just couldn’t work for the strategists who did not understand good and effective creative.

7     7)    Broadcast Production Has Been Dumbed Down
Procurement has forced the cost of production(s) to be cut and agencies have gone along with it.  The result is that agencies and clients rarely are able to pay the day rates of the best directors. And those directors can rarely afford to take the time or afford to go to foreign countries to shoot ads and commercials (done to save on talent costs).  There is very little original music and a lot of editing is being often executed in-house.

Most of you remember or have seen, “Where’s the beef?).  That came about because the agency used the esteemed director, Joe Sedelmeir. 

Commercials are a medium by themselves.  Skimping on production is penny wise and, often, pound foolish.

 8)  There Is No Longer a Star System
Once upon a time there were real creative superstars.  The whole business knew who they were.  Agencies prided themselves on these people.  They were paid well and became the faces of the agencies they worked for.  The advent of the holding companies changed the star system.  It is unfortunate, but a fact of life in advertising today.




Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Adventures In Recruiting: Insulted By A Millennial Father

I got a phone call last week from a stranger.  It was shocking but not surprising.  I thought it worth commentary.

To put this conversation in perspective, I firmly believe that if someone is looking for a job, no matter how young they are, they need to call me themselves.  This shows both interest and strength.

I have written several times about millennial parents, but this discussion took first prize.  The conversation went like this:

Millennial Parent:  My daughter has a Master’s degree in advertising and I am told you are the person who can help her get a job in the business.  She has four years of working experience prior to getting her Masters.

Me:  Was her working experience in advertising?

MP:  No. But she was very successful.

Me:  Unfortunately, I don’t handle entry level positions.  Also…

MP (interrupting):  She isn’t entry level.  She has experience.

Me: If it is not advertising experience, she would be considered entry level, no matter       what her degree.  How old is she now?

MP:  27

Me:  She is entry level since she has no experience in advertising.  After all, she is not going to be hired as a vice president.  I cannot help her. And, honestly, she is old enough to call me herself.

MP:  I was told you were the man.  She is extraordinary; if you talk to her, you will work with her.

Me:  I Have been recruiting in advertising for many years.  She is entry level, despite her experience.  Companies do not pay recruiters to find people with no experience – they can do that on their own. They hire us to find people with very specific background, in this case that background is advertising. But, if there is any chance for me to help her, she first has to call me herself.  I am not trying to be difficult, but she has to do her own bidding. She is too old and experienced for a parent to do her work.

MP: You are being ridiculous.  If you are such a good recruiter, you should see her. And I am not doing anything for her that you wouldn’t do for your own kids, if you have any.

Me: I appreciate your passion for your daughter.  But I cannot help her.

MP: Your loss.  Fuck you (hangs up).

I have previously written about not doing the bidding for your kids, if they are adults.  But, honestly, I was shocked by this father’s reaction to my asking him to have his daughter call me; it almost never gets to the point where the parent is so determined to handle the job hunt for their kids. Usually, they tell me they will have their son or daughter call and sometimes they do and most of the time they don't.  And their failure to call me tells me that they were not so interested in the first place.

The business has changed in the last decade.  Once upon a time, my firm would get an assignment for at least one entry level person a year, usually from smaller companies; that is no longer the case.  In fact, in looking through our computers, the last such assignment we had was in 2007.  If someone has an extraordinary background and track record we will see them just so we know them for the future. An extraordinary background includes an education in a fine college, preferably one with a good advertising/marketing department and, for advertising, internships at the name agencies where they have actually had some responsibility.
On top of that, they have to be self-assured enough to call me themselves!

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

What Makes A Superstar?

When I wrote a couple of weeks ago about a bad seed who had been a superstar, I received a communication from one of my readers asking me to define what makes a superstar employee.  I thought this was worth writing about.

Superstars are people who have a number of things that have happened in their career, often simultaneously, but occasionally, sequentially.  Mostly, they get promoted quickly (and don’t necessarily have to change jobs in order to get promoted) and regularly.  They get rotated on to different businesses or have a multitude of experiences which gives them a broad view of the business.  They exude competence and passion; and, most of all, they exude their success, but not in an egocentric or arrogant way.  

Most of these people have worked both at the right companies and on the right accounts.  In advertising, the “right” agencies are either the big shops or the highly esteemed smaller agencies – these days, Wieden & Kennedy, Droga5, 360i, R/GA (to name a few).  All these companies have one thing in common – they are highly regarded by the rest of the business.

The “right” accounts are those where the work is highly visible and well regarded.  The creative work is probably well known and recognized.  P&G, Samsung, IBM, Lexus, even some of the major retailers, fall into this category.  People who have worked on these kinds of businesses are generally well trained and highly in demand.  This is not only true of advertising, but all business in general.
Superstars tend to have a very broad view of the business and, even in the early stages of their careers, have adopted their own point of view about the business. They also are highly directed and motivated. When they interview, the exude passion and love for what they do – doesn’t matter what their discipline – writing, art direction, producers, strategists, account people – there is something almost intangible that they communicate that makes people want them on their team.  In advertising, they have an innate understanding that creative is ultimately what counts but have learned to value and befriend their clients, again, their disciplines don’t matter.. Most work hard and long and love it. 

They are problem solvers and unselfishly do whatever is required of them. Their employers are constantly challenging them with difficult assignments and projects because they are confident that the superstar can confront the issue and resolve the problem.  Most often, people want to work with and for them.

Sometimes, superstars become so because they are in the right place at the right time.  In advertising, marketing and other service business star executives end up working on accounts that grow dramatically. They have good relationships with their clients and as the clients get promoted, these they get promoted because the client likes them.  More than one agency president has come up this way.

As superstars progress through their career, they are a positive influence on the people who work for and with them.  Knowing that there is strength in numbers, they are able to unify the people who work for them.  Employees generally love reporting to these people because they become mentors.  
 Even in junior positions, they are unafraid to voice opinions and can bring people around to their point of view. In short, they are all leaders.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Ageism In Advertising

Ageism in advertising is an open secret but is rarely discussed.  There is a tremendous amount of age discrimination in the advertising business.  Some is overt and most is very covert.  Everyone in the business has always said, “It is a young person’s business.”  I never thought much about it until I became a recruiter many ago.  At that time I met many people in their fifties who were worried about their ability to get a new job; they were right.  Many had to leave the business because they couldn’t get rehired.

I naively believed that the problem might resolve itself since the business was starting to be run by the Baby Boomers.  The population is getting older, people are living and working longer so I assumed that as people aged, they would continue to work and be productive.  I also thought that as management of agencies aged, they would hire older people as a reflection of themselves.  I was wrong.

It is a cultural problem. Agencies remain very age conscious.  They are afraid when they go on a new business pitch the client merely sees a group of older people; as if, older people can’t be creative or have great, strategic ideas. Agencies believe that clients falsely believe that ideas and creativity come from youth.  In point of fact, the heyday of the creative agencies came when their leaders – Bernbach, Ogilvy, Chiat and many others – were well into their late forties and fifties.  The biggest problem for some agencies with leaders who are now in their fifties or older, is that they actually believe that they are too old, so they surround themselves with youth.

The result is a cult of youth which demeans and minimalizes skill and experience.  The truth is that there is no substitute for life experience.  One of the things which caused the dot com bust was that when the economy tanked in the late nineties, the twenty-something executives who ran those companies simply did not have enough experience to know how to handle their companies in crisis.  By the time they started hiring older executives to help steer their companies, it was too late.
Ageism is pervasive in our society, not just advertising. 

My observation is that there are several kinds of ageism.

Financial Ageism
No secret: older executives most often make more money than younger people.  When companies have financial problems, it is easier and more profitable, at least on the surface, to find excuses and terminate an expensive person and replace her/him with someone who costs less.  This is not the place to get into the pros or cons of that, but suffice to say, that is often penny wise and pound foolish.

The first time I became aware of this was many years ago, when a magazine sales person who I liked very much and who was highly successful was replaced with a very inexperienced person who actually knew nothing.  The magazine (a major one) rationalized that if they gave this new sales person their major advertiser accounts,  they would not lose them because those advertisers needed the magazine.  (My friend went on to a competitor and within about eighteen months managed to pitch and win a lot of business away from his old employer.)

Intentional Ageism
This happens when companies feel that younger is better. Often, there are problems with the business and companies blame those issues on aging executives. (I once ran account management at an agency and refused to stay until 2am to approve a mechanical – I had very competent staff, and lots of them, to do that.  I was told I was too old – about forty – to run account management.) 

This is less true today than a few years ago, but it still exists in many ways.  Creative directors in their fifties are deemed to be too old to have the ability to work late and be productive to come up with great new ideas.  They are often replaced with younger people, often without explanation.

Inadvertent Ageism
This often happens in two ways.  When a new senior executive is hired they may be young and simply cannot relate to the older people who surround them. Those people may be terminated simply so that the new, younger executive can have his or her “own” people.  It is intentional, but it is not thought of as discrimination, but merely a management decision.

Or, and this is the most insidious, when a job opens and perfectly qualified executive is rejected because they are older than the person they would be reporting to.  The more experienced executive may be deemed to be threatening to the hiring manager or may be assumed to be a “bad fit” by an ill-informed human resource person. The result is that the older executive is not passed on to interview. This not only happens to people who are in their forties or fifties or older, but it happens to younger, successful executives who are out of work.  The problem is that companies put square pegs in square holes and do not train or retrain their executives on handling and managing employees. Often, management is completely ignorant of this happening.

Most businesses don’t do a lot of training any more.  But certainly there is absolutely no sensitivity training about age, anywhere.  I heard a story recently about a very young writer complaining about the age of voice-over talent auditioning for a commercial.

I have seen many senior executives who are out of work become highly successful consultants to the very clients they used to work for.  Some even get revenge by working with these companies to hire new agencies.

Ad agencies have been working hard on diversity.  This is an issue which largely affects hiring minorities.  People over fifty are certainly a minority in the advertising workplace and should be included in issues of diversity.

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