Who is the future of the ad industry?
I’ve always been frustrated with the way the British ad industry recruits new people.
Grad schemes, jobs for the client’s son and lengthy internship programmes have resulted in the industry becoming a white, middle-class bubble with little understanding of the real world they’re communicating with. Walk into many agencies and the majority of accents wouldn’t sound out of place at a home counties polo match. These people are in the top 10% of earners. And the only time they come into contact with the other 90% is if they need someone to fix their boiler or mow their lawn.
I think I have the right to say that because I used to be one of those white, middle class, university educated, well paid, ad men myself. Not now. (Although I’m still white, university educated and rather middle class.)
Most of the people I’ve worked with over the years have only ever worked in advertising. Many of them had even been to university or college to learn about advertising before that. And we expect them to be able to talk to the masses?
Where have all the the Cockneys gone?
Talking to some of the legendary ad men recently has made me realise that this is a modern phenomenon. I’ve heard the old boys talk about how there used to be lots of Cockney characters and people from working class backgrounds in the agencies. The only time I’ve come across anyone fitting that description recently is when a security person has checked my pass or someone’s arrived to fix the photocopier.
Here’s an idea you can have for free
I’ve wanted to address this issue for years. I believe it’s one of the reasons the ad industry has lost touch. Ten years ago I nearly convinced an agency to force its creatives to spend one day a month working out of the agency – on a building site, in a charity shop, in a nursing home – just so they had an understanding of how the other half (or other nine tenths) live. I still think it’s a great idea. I believe that the one day out of the office would pay for itself many times over in insight and inspiration and ideas. Maybe you should suggest it to your own agency.
Attracting a different kind of talent
Robin Wight also noticed this issue and started the Ideas Foundation to attract young talent from more diverse backgrounds. Hat’s off to him. I think it’s a brilliant idea.
But there’s something else I’ve been involved in recently that I believe is another route to attract the young talent from wider backgrounds. And that’s Skillset’s Apprenticeship scheme for the ad industry.
I was at a meeting this morning where we put our finishing touches to the ad industry’s National Occupational Standards. And I’ve got say I think they’re really well thought through and insightful. They’re so good, I think the apprentices will end up understanding the industry better than most of the experienced people they’ll be working with. My congratulations to all the dedicated ad people who gave their time to create the standards. And to the Skillset staff who’ve worked so hard on this.
But we’re not finished yet. Now we need to go through and add the details to every area of the the standards. That’s a pretty big job that requires a lot more work.
So the plan is for everything to be finished over the next few months. And in early autumn agencies will be able to start taking on apprentices straight out of school – and put them through a programme that will teach them everything they need to know to work in the industry.
So will it work?
The success of the apprenticeship scheme rests with the agencies. I’m sure it won’t replace the graduate schemes. But I believe that it can play an even more powerful role in the industry. Taking on the same kind of people is only going to keep us doing the same kind of work. But by attracting a different kind of individual, there’s more chance of us developing fresh approaches, understanding audiences better and transforming the industry. I’m pretty excited by that possibility.
So, agencies, it’s over to you.