Encouraging Talent

This week’s Ad Association report that the number of people working in advertising and marketing has fallen by 14% in 3 years is concerning.

As The Media Leader reports: “HR leaders across the industry have advised that skill shortages have been most acute at entry-level and at mid-level (people 3-5 years into their careers)”.

Certain conversations stay with you down the years. When I was in my early 20’s I somehow managed to get myself an introduction to a well-known advertising luminary of the time. I was excited, and nervous to meet him (I’m going to keep his name to myself). He sat me down in his office and asked me what he could do for me.

I said I wanted advice on getting started in an ad agency.

He told me not to go anywhere near agencies (he was working for one of the largest); they were doomed and wouldn’t exist in a few years.

I thanked him for his time, went home, decided to think for myself and ignored him.

Some years later my parents were at a dinner party. My mother was placed next to a well-known ad sales director (well-known to me; my mother had no idea who he was).

When it was established that this guy knew her son, my mother asked for his view on my career, such as it was at that time. What can I say, she was my mother.

He’s doing fine, said the ad director but he needs to get out of the research and planning side. There’s no future in it. He said this TO MY MOTHER!

You can imagine the phone call early the following morning.

Decades later I was on a platform at a conference on a panel with several other media / ad people.

Would we, we were asked by the moderator encourage our children to go into a career in media agencies.

Aside from the fact that both my daughters are well established in their careers, and neither are in an agency I said I would. I was the only person on that panel who was positive.

There are a mass of reasons to avoid media agencies. Lack of trust, historic obsession with buying, too close a relationship with certain vendors, failure to stand up to their clients’ irrational views on certain media channels, being disintermediated, threatened by specialist agencies, not getting on the front foot with fraud. And so on.

I do think that advertising per se faces an existential threat; or rather if things continue it faces a pared-back role in the face of short-termism, political interference and of course fraud.

Plus there are problems in agency revenues being hit by direct selling specifically by online channels; in advertising still being seen as a cost rather than an investment, and so on.

Advertising can be a force for good in business, aside from the fact that it can add value by transforming a product into a brand. I believe that to do those things we need the best people in the industry.

We shouldn’t pull the drawbridge up behind us; rather we should encourage, advise and persuade the best to join / stay in the industry.

We should celebrate our many successes and seek to elevate our industry amongst the broader business community by moving outside our own (very little) bubble.

We should be positive but in no way complacent; looking to move forward and improve what we do and how we do it.

I would love to think that the young me of today would follow his instincts and (like the real young me of so long ago) ignore the doomsayer old gits.

To my fellow old gits of today I would only say: play it forward.


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