The So Called Talent Crisis

You can buy this poster at The Keep Calm-o-matic. Click on the image to take you there.

You can buy this poster at The Keep Calm-o-matic. Click on the image to take you there.

You go to university, get an advanced degree, graduate, and then disappointed – no pissed – that the offered salaries aren’t what you think they should be, or worse, your talent is not valued. So says this piece in Digiday.

I get it. You’ve been told – no you listened to – all those experts (and educators) who said that the best education, nurturing the best talent, would land you in the job of your dreams with the salary and culture to go along with it.

You may be bringing some awesome new ideas and talent to the agency, but you just got out of school.

You have no experience. You are unproven.

You have never sat across from a client who is telling you, “I want something marvelous and innovative”, but is a) unwilling to pay (much) for it, and b) has a specific idea which he will personally art direct. To. Death.

And it doesn’t matter who you are, that breathtaking portfolio – created in the dreamy (albeit competitive) world of the classroom – has nothing to do with reality.

The creative that sells stuff is, unfortunately, reality.

Oh, I know what it’s like to know you have a lot more bankable talent than anyone is willing to pay for. But you have to learn the ropes. And that’s not the old way to do business; it is the way to do business.

When clients are squeezing every single cent out of an agency, there isn’t a whole lot of cash to go around. Especially for someone who is extraordinary but hasn’t a clue on how agencies make money.

So I don’t have a lot of sympathy for new grads who aren’t willing to do the ugly work at an agency.

Ugly is where reality lies. If you want to live in a fantasy, stay pissed. If you want to be in advertising, get real. Go to work for a crappy salary (agency salaries are always crappy at the beginning) to get some real experience.

If you pay attention and drop the arrogance, you’ll learn really important things – like where your talents can take you; learning to do what you do efficiently (aka make a profit); aligning with the people who will teach you the reality of agency life and how to work it; and how to really get what you want without whining.

Talent crisis? I think not. It’s just that the talented aren’t willing to invest one second beyond graduation in learning. It is an investment, but one with a big payoff if you’re willing to do the work, and yes, even work in a place that doesn’t have a game room or a keg of micro-brew in the break room.

Take it from me kids, I’ve been in the business nearly 40 years (even kept up with technology too – unimaginable at my age, I know) and there’s still a ton to learn.

And by the way, there are a million ad folks out there – with real, live experience – willing to teach. It’s the cheapest, most useful class you’ll ever attend.

Confusing Technology and Behavior

Once again Adcontrarian hit the nail on the head.

Confusing Gadgetry With Behavior.

It rings true to just about anything that is technology-related. I’m watching TV. I’m on the phone. Doesn’t matter the method, the action is the same.

On my side of the ad agency fence – squarely in the middle of the making sure things get done department – technology is frequently confused with behavior.

When things go wrong in an agency, as they all too often do, the first inclination is to turn to technology. We need a[nother] new software program. What we have doesn’t work, is too hard to use, the UX looks funky, blah, blah, blah.

New software will Fix Everything.

I have seen agencies and in-house marketing departments spend tons of money – the cash kind and hours (that could be billable) kind – in project management and workflow solutions hoping to achieve workflow nirvana.

Sometimes the tools (not the people – the technology) that are in place were selected by accounting, IT, or God forbid, a committee comprised of management who know nothing about what it takes to juggle a boatload of work, and resources that are hiding at Starbucks.

Often, the tools were not setup or implemented properly, training was done as more of a features overview, or worse, via five- or ten-minute videos on YouTube.


I don’t care if you’re using the biggest, baddest enterprise solution, or an easy-entry freeware, cloud-based app. You have to set parameters for use, or else everyone will do whatever they want, however they want.

Technology does not change behavior.

If you’re not getting much in the way of consistency or compliance in what you’re using now, it won’t happen with something shiny and new.

That’s why I have a job. (I can help you)

There’s more to keeping your agency humming along, and preventing people from hatin’-on one another. Tools (technology) are one thing. Process is another (I can hear The Adcontrarian now), but yes, you need a process – just basic, clearly defined steps to get things done works fine.

Then there are people.

People. They’re the ones using the tools. They often don’t know why they’re required to use them. They’re getting their work done. Thank-you-very-much. So back off. And please don’t say Process again.

Bottom line; involve users (especially creative folk) in evaluation and decision-making of technology. If they understand why you decided to do this to them, they’re just a little more inclined to use it – and use it the way you intended it to be used.

Ask for their recommendation. Don’t make it an ordeal. Involvement takes 10 minutes. Any more than that and you’ll lose all of the creative folks. You take care of the rest, and then give a 5-minutes or less dog-and-pony of the awesome solution you found.

There will always be a few who refuse to comply. If the culture allows it, then that’s part of your job: find out how important it is for management, then they have to do their part. Compliance can require tough love. You don’t have to be a jerk – help them get over the resistance.

Last, if I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times – customize your solution to fit your agency.

Out of the box, plug ‘n play, is a complete lie. Trust me on this.

Technology doesn’t change behavior. We still do what we have to do. These days, we don’t have keep timesheets on a three-part form, we click a button.

The inclination (or lack thereof) to do so will never change.

And in case I didn’t make it clear: I love the creative guys. I really do.

Your work pays the bills.

What Is Agency Culture? Beer? Billiards?

Yes, I usually work on electronics whilst drinking suds.  Credit where credit's due: "Image courtesy of marin/".

Yes, I usually work on electronics whilst drinking suds.

Credit where credit's due: "Image courtesy of marin/".

I just read the People page of Bernstein-Rein’s website

It says:

“Culture is about so much more than a ping-pong table. Which is why we also have shuffleboard, foosball, billiards, beer on tap, a candy dispenser, a Beauty Brands retail store, a spectacular view of the Kansas City skyline and pens with our company logo. But the truth is, our most valuable asset is our people.

We are artists, scientists, strategists, technologists, storytellers and data analysts. And every day, we put ourselves in the same room and figure out how to make an impact on the brands we serve. This is the approach that defines who we are and how we work. Also, we have a professional-grade coffee bar.”

I’ve written about it before, agency culture is more than beer Fridays and billiards. Or bringing your dog to work.

So when an agency defines their culture by the stuff they have for their employees, it makes me wonder what culture really consists of. (I know that by using this example they're gonna be hatin' on me.)

Don’t get me wrong, this agency looks like a great place to work, but if you take away all that . . . stuff . . . do they have a culture? Or does any agency without stuff have a culture, for that matter?

Back in the olden days, when I was actually employed by an agency, we all had separate offices. Yep, and collaboration worked really well. The good old days before open space, BYOD and, for cripes sakes, hotelling, sigh.

There were chairs, desks, drawing boards, pillows on the floor, Molskine notebooks, pencils and markers, an awesome library, and lots of people working in each-other’s offices.

We didn’t have billiards or beer on tap. However there was plenty of that downstairs in the bar – where we gathered quite regularly – sometimes before quitting time, but more often, hours later.

Granted that what the folks at B-R wrote about culture is clever, fun. But when you take that stuff away, does everyone leave the agency? Do they hate the partners?

I’ve talked to a lot of young creative folks over the years about where they want to work, and when they tell me they want to work for X Agency because they allow dogs or have a room dedicated to Xbox, I have to wonder . . . What happened to wanting the opportunity to work with the best agency and do the best work?

Do they know what advertising is about?

So to B-R, yes you got it right, because it takes all kinds – artists, scientists, and so on to do great creative – in the same room. That in itself creates the culture. The rest are perks.

Everyone should be grateful for the perks. Thank your partners for them, and then go and do great work.

Agency Culture

Big topic. What is it? How do you create it?

I’ve said many times that dogs at work, flexible hours, open space and Beer Fridays do not constitute Agency Culture.

And, by the way, they’re not entitlements either.

I’ve worked in places that had real, true Agency Culture. The kind of place where everything clicks, we look forward to going to work, we enjoy our colleagues, and great creative is nurtured.

I’ve also worked in places that tried to create Agency Culture through zany meetings, meaningless accolades (usually for the same suck-ups – oops usual suspects), birthdays complete with festive cake, and yes, Beer Fridays.

We all have a job to do. And it should be in a place where you actually like the people you work with – and respect them.

I think a great Agency Culture comes from a place of mutual respect. From the top – down.

The rest just happens.

Mentorship in Advertising

Yesterday’s post was about the lack of the 50+ perspective and the glaring absence of 50+ staff in advertising agencies.

For those who don’t know, we’re talking Baby Boomers.

My way-back-when-colleague, Jeff commented “…the notion of mentorship, seems to have evaporated in this worship of youth culture.”

Damn! I forgot completely about mentorship.

That’s because I have seen it so rarely in the past 20 years. Is anyone mentoring these days?

In a Google search with the words Advertising and Mentorship, I turned up one – only one – agency on the first page.

Barkley ding! ding! ding! you get the prize. And the word is in the page address: However, at first read, it does look like an internship…

For me, mentorship is different from internship, though. Mentorship goes well beyond Summer Break. It lasts throughout your career, then you, kiddo, get to pass it along.

So for those who hire recent grads, please don’t stick them in a cube and give them crap to file, or do data entry. Guide them.

Partner them with someone who knows the ins-and-outs of advertising and agency life. By the way, this goes without saying, but put them with someone who isn’t jaded and just doing time.


Rookies need to understand the business of advertising. Client relationships – which requires finesse, like not saying yes; getting shit done – not passing off something half-done because it is late; creative – because there is logic behind it; strategy – because there is reason behind it; getting coffee – no it isn’t a one-hour, off-site venture; partying – there’s a right time and wrong time to partake. Paying attention to budgets and timelines. Culture in the context of camaraderie.

And please, foosball tables, dogs-at-work, and Beer Fridays do not constitute culture. That’s just slop shots, poo in the hall and a Saturday of Regret.

So this is about mentorship. If you’ve only worked in advertising for, say, three to five years, you may have won all sorts of accolades for your digital stuff. Did anyone mentor you, or did you follow the hype about The Next Big Thing?

Mentorship is about thoughtful consideration of your work; how you approached your strategy, how you executed your creative – through the eyes of someone who has made the mistakes and celebrated the successes. Those folks, who have been in the trenches for the better part of a quarter-of-a-century – or more – will share amazing things with you.

This world has gone digital, and in that wake has drunk the Kool-Aid of youth.

And I’ll bet Gen X and Y don’t know anything about Kool-Aid other than a euphemism.

Expectations in Creative

I used to work in creative. I was a designer, technical illustrator, and in the olden days a paste-up artist.

I made that switch from a drawing board to a Mac. It changed everything.

I didn’t have to spec and order type, size and order color separations, do imposition guides – you know, all that prehistoric stuff we had to plan. Before we executed anything.

With the speed of a keystroke, I could change the parameters of type, re-size images, impose in the file. Pretty much could do my planning as I was doing my work.

Expectations changed radically. Especially from those who didn't do the work. Like your VP of Marketing, or your client.

“It’s on the computer; it’s just a quick change…”

That dazzling piece of technology has made you a slave to lack of planning, and expectations that are somewhere beyond reality. But you work to meet them anyway.

Because someone committed you to those expectations.

You see how those expectations make it from the client, right on through past account and directly to creative?

I know you’ve been there.

I have a special place in my heart for creatives. I am awestruck by great copy; a great headline. I hung up my t-square long ago because I had the privilege to work with designers/art directors/creative directors who have blown me away with things I never imagined. And they did it so effortlessly.

So, about expectations…

Creative folks, you deserve to receive a comprehensive brief; to be a part of developing that brief and defending that brief. So that when it comes time to execute, you actually recognize it.

You also deserve to get clear documentation with expectations defined – scope, timeline, budget.

What is expected of you is this: stick to the plan; immediately notify your AE and PM if there are any issues with scope, timeline or budget. And come to an agreement on any deviation before proceeding.

I expect you to defend your work, and know when to give-in when the client plays Creative Director. Because knowing when to cut your losses and take the paycheck leaves you time to do wonderful work for those who really recognize your talent.

I expect you to provide updates without prompting – so we can keep the work moving.

I expect you to post any time you work on any projectto the correct project number.

I also expect to know if you’ll be out of the office: for offsite work, vacation days, illness, coffee, or that pint of Bagdad Ale if you leave at 3pm on Friday (because a client will always call at 3:15 with an emergency).

I expect you to do your timesheets. Every day.

I know that last item is the thing you hate most, but it is the one thing that tells us – with more simplicity than any other piece of ‘technology’ – how expectations are being met in the agency.

Beer Fridays and Music

Alright, I admit I’m old. Way back in the day, during high school, my Very First Job was in a radio station.

Doesn't seem that cool? Well, back then, AM Radio Ruled – but it was comprised of tinny songs around two minutes long. And lots of spots. For local things. Because radio was really local back then.

FM Stereo was gaining ground. People were buying very cool home equipment, but it was really expensive to put it in your car, and at that time, 4-Track Stereos were The Thing. 8-tracks followed shortly – progress!

Because life was so amazing, we’d drive around at night looking for things to do – as we switched back-and-forth from station-to-station to find a good song – and take in that two-minute version with all the guitar leads cut out so it fit on a 45 record.

So at my Very First Job after school, I worked at the first FM Stereo, Album Format Rock & Roll station in Portland. The music was safe during the day. But after 9pm, the DJs played the long versions of everything. Which, in those days was about 17 minutes.  Extended versions. With all the guitar leads. Do you know what the two-minute-version of the Allman Brothers’ Whippin’ Post sounds like? Neither do I.

That. Was. Awesome.

To complete the picture, I had a ’63 VW bug with a safari top. Adorned myself in Indian print shirts and Sea Farers. Got free tickets to concerts, and I hung out with people who were a lot older than me. It all fit so well.

It was a cool job for a teenager.

In the world, we had a war to protest, bras to burn, consciousness to raise, and music that defined a generation. I’ve heard it said that music is the soundtrack for your generation. It was true for me.

I still love the old music, hear it sampled here and there – and resurrected in a TV spot or two.

I was ‘too young’ to participate in Beer Fridays, but we had plenty of them. We were creative, hard-working and had a lot of fun – and the DJs knew how to put a set together.

The music always got us in the mood for the weekend. Glad I was there.

Happy Beer Friday! And what are you listening to?