Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Flying High on Empty Balloons

Published in Nov-Dec 2021

In the rush to compete, non-traditional agencies are hiring young people to fill top positions without the relevant experience.

Not too long ago, an agency advertised for a creative director; the credentials they required included at least three years’ worth of experience, sound knowledge of social media portals, good presentation skills and “young and dynamic.”

In other circumstances, I may have thought about applying, but there were so many other requirements listed that I did not possess. To begin with, I am not young, I am not well-versed with social media portals and I don’t know what being dynamic means. Is it a skill set that allows people to light up a boardroom or would a sharply cut suit make me appear to be dynamic – or does it entail having a personality that keeps everyone entertained? 

What struck me most about this ad was how could an agency hire someone with only three years’ experience for such a high-level post? After all, how much experience can one gather in three years? Even if someone graduates as a class-topper, he or she will join an organisation as a bottom feeder, and like everyone at the bottom of the rung, start by finding images on Google for their line manager or proofreading text until four in the morning. At the best, if they are lucky, they will have the chance to go to an ad shoot. After all, in terms of work, what have any one of us learnt in a mere three years? Getting your feet wet in a new profession and learning the ins and outs takes that much time. Simply put, in a non-philosophical, non-Rumi inspired world, three years in advertising means nothing; it is only the beginning. 

Ever since seeing this wanted ad, I have developed the habit of looking out for such job openings and I have noticed some commonalities. Most of these openings are posted by new age agencies with creative names that are amalgamations of colours and seasons or animals meeting an emotion – such as Blue Summers or Happy Zebra. What made these ads similar was the fact that they were all looking for creative leaders. In fact, these days, media houses, digital houses and production houses are in perpetual search of creative heads because they have to compete with an established agency. However, the issue is that they are not investing in training; instead they are luring young people with the promise of high salaries and high designations, without realising the consequences (or maybe they don’t care) this will have on their career trajectory or on the creative industry as a whole.

Every now and then, I meet a host of names that I have never heard before in a joint brainstorming session. We all wait in one room, the known and the unknown – all hoping to crack the brief and shine. The media house will have their big idea, the production house will bring theirs, the digital agency will have their take on it and the traditional agency will try their luck. The brief will ask everyone to work on one big idea. So, what we have here, are many different creative voices working on the same brief, trying to prove that they are better. Five creative heads from different facets of advertising coming up with five big ideas that will, more often than not, have no common thread. In the end, these ideas, no matter how good they are, will inevitably be thrown into a blender, so that a campaign can be created. The results, however, will be disjointed; the digital content will have nothing to do with the TVC (except maybe the tagline), the media campaign will have no relevance to the big idea – a cut-out or glow in the dark hoarding is not an idea, it’s a treatment. (I miss the good old days of saloon agencies, the ones that offered everything under one roof. All disciplines working together with no demarcations).

Given this scenario, I start to imagine these young, vulnerable, creative heads with three years’ experience sitting across people with decades’ worth of knowledge, trying to figure out how to even compete with them. To say the least, it must be daunting for them. But the fault is not theirs – what creative direction can one expect from someone so new to the field of advertising? 

Sure, younger people are filled with bright ideas and fire, but is it fair to throw them into the gladiator’s arena, without training them? If they win a pitch, it’s great – and rare – but if they lose, they will be, more often than not, replaced and another wanted ad will appear in the following Sunday’s newspaper to fill their now vacant post. 

Are these agencies that hire these young people at creative director level doing so because they are young and talented or because they are affordable (read: pocket-friendly) and easy to deal with? And to top it all, they are fooled into believing they have a say in what is going on, because of their fancy titles. We may think this system is supporting new ideas and new talent, but it is not. In most cases, it is just supporting the bottom line of the organisation. To me the job opportunity ad should read: “An agency is looking for a creative director with at least three years’ experience to survive. S/he needs to be super affordable, good at taking orders, receiving constant criticism from everyone above them and, most importantly, not demand anything. They must not have a personality as that creates problems and should ideally remain mute.”

If we write the truth, at least we will not be misleading young people who enter the industry with high hopes and aspirations, only to have them leave in a few years later to become wedding photographers, freelancers or influencers (they all pay them more). At least, we will not have to figure out why art and film school students are not joining advertising. The bottom line is that by not being truthful, both digital and traditional agencies will ultimately lose out when it comes to finding new people.

What I hope and pray for is for our industry to cultivate a culture of teaching and nurturing, instead of just hiring young talent in high positions to fill an organogram. We should teach them how to take creative direction before they start giving it. We should allow them to learn and grow, and once they are ready, give them the title and the salary they deserve – even if it is more than what the CEO’s son/daughter earns. Invest in them; give them time and love. Only then will the industry grow and attract talent.

In the meantime, I wish these bright young new creatives luck and love and may all Happy Zebra and Blue Summer digital/media/ production house run agencies shine in the boardroom and elsewhere too!

Syed Yawar Iqbal is National Creative Director, JWT|GREY