The ad agency business is not in the best shape today. I’ve been describing the conditions that led to this sorry state for years, as have other concerned individuals. Some of the prevailing themes are brain drain, poor work conditions, lack of diversity, loss of creativity, propeller heads gone wild, et al.
Aisha Hakim, a senior art director at Venables Bell & Partners, who recently stepped away from her job has another “major fail” to add to the list: The never-ending pursuit of recognition and praise.
Decided to tell the world that I’m a quitter. And why. https://t.co/cDzTcEQZPj
— Aisha Hakim (ae-sha hay-kim) (@AishaAnnHakim) June 15, 2020
Writing on 3percentmovement, Hakim says:
There’s an archetypal career path we’ve all been conditioned to pursue in advertising. It’s cliquey and flashy, and all-consuming. Like if True Religion jeans were a person. And I was well on my way there. For the past five years, I’ve been grinding away at reputable agencies, speaking on dramatically lit stages—poised to take the next crucial step that would launch me into the advertising stratosphere. But instead, I quit (at least for now).
Advertising’s cool factor (if there is such a thing) is not cool.
Keeping up with the Ad Joneses is not cool.
Working late into the night, while lesser men pass you by is not cool.
Pretending it’s all good when it’s not, is not cool.
She perfectly describes the emptiness that ad people and many others sometimes feel on the job:
My cup still wasn’t full. There would always be someone else to impress. Someone who wasn’t totally convinced of me, someone with more awards and a better portfolio. I still felt a deep lust underscored by insecurity when looking at the work of my competition, I was still chasing another crowning achievement or to be named on some celebrated list. There was always something more I could be doing if I just had the time. And that’s an exhausting cycle to live in. Physically. Mentally. I asked myself, do I really want to keep up this endless pursuit for praise and prestige in exchange for my mental health? Is it—whatever that may be—really worth it?
Obsessions. We, the creative people of Earth, have them.
Peers Are Peers, Not Judges and Juries
Peer review is how we make ads. Peer review is also the method by which we hand out ad industry awards, which lead to ad industry fame and hopefully a series of sizeable raises.
I’m not against peer review, but I am adamant about the fact the customer (also known as the reader/viewer/listener) is the ultimate decider.
For decades, the industry has handed out trophies for the wrong reasons. What ad people say isn’t law. Our style and taste are not determinative. Ad people are feeders and if we’re any good, we learn to adapt and to please the people on the other end of our messages. In other words, we learn to feed the people what they want to consume. When this all lines up nicely, big buckets of money get made, which is the primary objective and the only reason why clients bother to hire us.
Sadly, ad people who want to reach the industry’s loftiest of heights have another audience in mind, at all times, as Hakin admits. The other audience is an audience of peers, which for the most part is a needless diversion. She was looking over her shoulder and it’s a feeling and habit that many of us know well. We know it well because there’s a nasty paranoia running through The Ad River.
Someone’s going to steal my ideas! No, someone already did. And so on…
Treadmills Belong In A Gym
Creative people are so sensitive.
How do you relate to the above sentence? Hardened-MBAs may laugh out loud. Thankfully, hardly anyone outside the board room listens to them. You have to be paid to do that.
Artists and writers feel things more intensely than most and posses a finer ability to communicate these emotions. This matters to brands because brands must create connections with people and this is achieved through shared stories that foster feelings.
Brands might think of the creatives on their team as their central nervous system. The body does not function as intended without a healthy nervous system. When the work that a brand produces becomes hollow, stale, soulless, and without meaning, it hurts people and profits.
My hat is off to Hakim for exposing the problem and challenging the myth. To consistently create work that matters by people who care, there’s a need for healthy workplaces and healthy teams. A Lion or Pencil is nice to have, but it’s not as nice as knowing that you matter and that your work matters, not just today, but for some time to come.
When an architect builds a home, the home is a testament to the massive efforts made. But ad people are not on this page, because one Lion, or one new job, or one big raise, must be followed by the next and the next.
Less Is More
How about brand managers and their agency helpers slow down and rethink what people truly want from them? Instead of making more ads, how can brands make more meaning? Signal to noise ratios are jamming all signals. Perhaps, it’s time for brands to find a new quiet and a slower pace?
Right now, and for the foreseeable future, less is more. Thus, new levels of respect and restraint are necessary. The present-day compulsion to fill the funnel is a bad habit and another excuse marketers give themselves to keep going, to keep Tweeting, and to keep making more of whatever it is they make.
Funnels make sucky noises. Please keep that in mind the next time someone asks you to fill one.