Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

The twist of the knife in my stupid heart

Published in Nov-Dec 2016
How advertising agencies are letting their creatives down badly.

I am 37 years old and according to the average life span of a Pakistani woman, I have already lived more than half my life doing mediocre work. Nearly 17 years in the industry and I still walk around with my eyes lit up by dreams of doing the kind of work which will make my life worthwhile. Work that will soothe the festering wounds inflicted by clients who have no business being marketers, who get no joy in creation and who celebrate paralysis by analysis.

Tomes and tomes of client-agency horror stories can be written by anyone who has survived the ad world. If you can read what follows without flinching, you have already earned my respect.

Client 1: Years ago, a Brand Manager from one of the largest advertisers in the country requested the agency to remove the smell from the approved artwork. Yes, smell. You read it right.

Client 2: A category head didn’t know that David Ogilvy was a real person (she worked at Ogilvy for over two years).

Client 3: Demanded that the ECD should leave his ailing mother’s side and fly to another city so that they could have the satisfaction of telling him to his face that the drum beat at 0:37 seconds in the TVC needed changing (there was no drum at the said duration, it was only a tantrum).

Client 4: The CMO who had no notion of the positioning of his brand? “Haan? Positioning? Why do we need that? Don’t try to change the subject.”

Client 5: “If we had to write briefs, why would we hire an agency; that is your job.”

Client 6: “We are a global brand; you can google to find out about our positioning rather than asking us. Surely you know how to google?”

Every client: “Make an ad like they do in India.” Then after six rounds, the verdict was: “No, these ideas are too real and insight driven, you can’t crack it. Just make it glamorous and safe. Let’s get Fawad and Mahira.”

Are clients and their myopic views about creativity the only reason many creatives are fleeing the industry? With the much welcomed revival of cinema, many creative heads are switching to production houses or taking up freelance assignments rather than working nine to five. Asma Nabeel, Shakeel Hassan, Ammar Rasool, Kiran Murad, wonderfully talented people who no longer choose to work in the agency model.

Has the agency structure failed creatives? For an industry that sells creativity, we are fast running out of the product. If we were selling fried chicken, it would be a case of having run out of chicken.

One of the reasons cited for this shortage is a dearth of creative people at all levels. It is not only the seniors who are jumping ship, Millennials too are not considering advertising agencies as potential employers. This has led to a vicious cycle of not having enough resources, untimely promotions of junior creatives (which hurt them in the long run) and more pressure on the seniors. If the copywriter was an endangered species then the CM, ACD and CD are fast being added to the list.


A creative head believed that it is the agency bosses who have let the creatives down. By not focusing on HR development and cutting cost by not hiring, they are burning out those who are producing.


It has become a case of ‘no one to groom the youngsters and no youngsters to groom’. Add that to the horror stories about clients from hell and suicide is the only acceptable answer. (Please don’t ever consider that. I am only illustrating a point. If your job depresses you, find another; there is only one life. Live it well.)

What about the people who stayed? Zehra Zaidi, Yawar Iqbal, Rashna Abdi, Zohra Yusuf, Awais Iqbal Dhakan, Sarah Mo and many others. I don’t know all these people, although I count some of them as good friends and during bare-our-scars conversations similar threads are unravelled again and again.

A creative head believed that it is the agency bosses who have let the creatives down. By not focusing on HR development and cutting cost by not hiring, they are burning out those who are producing. You see, in advertising the surest way to make profits is to have less people do more work. Globally this is the acceptable practice.

Another problem is that immense brainpower and man hours spent on the routine and somewhat mundane production work that accounts for a sizeable share in a typical agency’s revenue. Such as regional adaptations, art work adaptation, give aways, PR ideas... Many agencies have been pushed so far downstream that they sometimes compete directly with printers, client in-house design departments and production companies for work that is seen by clients as increasingly commoditised. Has the time-based remuneration model been a waste of everyone’s time?

Another creative felt the fault lies with weak client service. Cliché territory indeed, dear reader; this eternal fight between the suits and the creatives. However, this sheds light on an important point. Client servicing proves to be an even more brutal job for Millennials and so they are just not investing in creating a relationship with clients or their brand. They are not acquiring knowledge about the competition, industry context, brand guidelines, understanding past marketing strategies and so on. They are not interested in the brands and certainly not interested in investing in clients. They don’t get to know them as human beings; which restaurants they like, how many children do they have (if any), what is the decision making process in the company and above all what are their personal ambitions? Are they interested in brand building or is this only an exercise in resumé building?

Corruption and kickbacks were the reasons given by another creative. The higher ups are more interested in lining their pockets than giving two hoots about the quality of work. Indeed, they need to keep an eye on the bottom line and twist the creative’s arm to accept mediocrity.


The agency not being aligned internally on their goals is another complaint. Creatives want international awards on their wall; the rest of the agency is not in for the long haul. Just do what everyone wants and go home.


Imran Afzal, CEO, JWT, was quoted in Aurora a few months ago as saying that “corruption is a plague that has seeped in at every level.” I once had the displeasure of attending a client meeting where my senior ‘shushed’ me. I was doing the job I was hired to do; making sure that the right director had the chance to do justice to the concept. The senior and the client had kickback arrangements with another production company. I could succumb to cowardice here and make excuses; the truth is I didn’t utter a single word after the shush. I was responsible once again for creating mediocre and easily forgettable work.

The agency not being aligned internally on their goals is another complaint. Creatives want international awards on their wall; the rest of the agency is not in for the long haul. Just do what everyone wants and go home. Well, this ‘particular creative’ got tired of being Nutella for everyone. “When I make everyone happy, I make myself miserable, because the work is safe, comfortable and sweet. It is so sweet that it will make the nation diabetic.”

One thousand two hundred words are not enough to do justice to these mysteries.

I don’t know about the others, but my aim to stay in advertising is the same one that the human race has had since the beginning of time. I am looking for significance on this planet. And every time anyone asks me to create more clutter, I try, I fight. I try and then I give in.

I bow my head to raise the revenue; I reason that this pays my team’s salaries and every time the knife in my stupid heart starts twisting in an anti- clockwise direction. Yes, I am the creative and I am the first to take the blame.

Atiya Zaidi is ECD (North), Synergy Dentsu. atiya.zaidi@synergydentsu.com

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Comments (2) Closed



Graham Dec 24, 2016 06:45pm

An agency retainer is now worth less than a brand managers salary. AGENCY Filled with people and tech and people with 18 years of experience cannot get more a month than a 3 year marketing graduate. ANY REASON WHY CLIENT AND AGENCY PROPLE both are shunning the industry. No respect. No money.

pieter vandeneynde Dec 24, 2016 08:08pm

Thanks for sharing.