Advertising Is Work, Not The Priesthood

Deutsch CEO Mike Sheldon is alarmed to know that 25% of the people who work in advertising “don’t love advertising.”

In response to new findings unearthed by his agency and the 4As, Sheldon wants agencies to adopt a startup culture, invest in R&D, work in smaller teams, teach employees new things and support side projects.

But is that the real problem? Do copywriters and art directors prefer the iterative process of software developers to their own methodical plodding?

Heidi Ehlers, a creative turned headhunter, turned career consultant doesn’t like Sheldon’s reasoning, which she finds beside the point. Ehlers counsels agencies to put proactive, not reactive, talent attraction programs in place. She visited and came away underwhelmed. This is from her open letter to Sheldon:

Does your company website include a talent microsite that sells each applicant on the benefits of joining your company?

No it doesn’t. I checked this morning. It lists jobs. You list them on Linked in. You haven’t told me on the talent microsite why I should choose Deutsch as my next job. No selling, no marketing, no advertising. If you were a plumber, I could look the other way. You aren’t. You’re an advertising agency.

Ehlers is right that agency websites (like most websites) are totally formulaic, and mostly descriptive rather than persuasive.

Of course, the talent rotisserie problem goes much deeper. Beyond the need for a talent attraction program and a dedicated microsite, Ehlers says agencies must move to fix the performance and salary review process immediately. “Nothing screams ‘You’re not that important’ like a performance or salary review that keeps getting punted.”

She also wants agencies to have well defined goals and a plan to achieve them, and she suggests that agency leaders stop expecting one person to do the job of five people.

To summarize, agencies will become more attractive workplaces when their owners/leaders act honorably and on schedule, avoid speaking in meaningless generalities and show respect for the people who make the work, not just the work they make.



About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.