Adland Secrets: Confessions of an ex-trade journalist

Pippa Chambers
By Pippa Chambers | 11 April 2019
Adland Secrets

This first appeared in the AdNews April 2019 magazine and is part of a new feature AdNews introduced last year called Adland Secrets. Support AdNews by subscribing here.

Under cover of anonymity, a former industry hack talks top brass, egos, freebies, work–life balance and the importance of supporting trade press, in this series of raconteurs bending the ear of AdNews. 

Why be a B2B journalist over B2C?
In an extremely challenging media environment, B2B usually offers better job security, pay and career progression, because your readers — industry professionals and businesses – are usually more likely to support your publications and events than the average media consumer. Often, you can get closer to an industry than mainstream news or business reporters, who these days are more stretched and focused on the big end of town.

Of all the sectors, why advertising/media over any others?
I have never covered an industry sector that provides you with greater access to top brass and which is as gossipy as media and advertising. Almost everybody wants to talk even if they aren’t supposed to. When they don’t, it’s nothing a few glasses of wine and/or beer and/or shots can’t fix. It’s also an incredibly fast-moving, dynamic and rapidly evolving industry with seriously clever people. You never get bored.

What’s a good tenure for a B2B adland journo?
A minimum of two years, but I reckon a five-year stint is a decent crack. It’s hard to say and depends entirely on your ambitions, if you get a better offer, etc. For young journos it’s a great place to cut your teeth and make important industry contacts.

What’s the journo rivalry like?
The rivalry between AdNews, B&T and Mumbrella used to be legendary, punctuated by fisticuffs in pubs, April Fool’s Day stunts, lawsuits and all of those shenanigans. Thankfully, it’s not like that anymore - although there is one legendary reporter who goes by the name ‘The Viper’ at night - so best not bump into him in a dark Surry Hills alley or at Scary Canary on student’s night. The truth is most of the journos get along just fine. Nobody (really) is that insecure, childish or has that much time to worry about a rival’s typos on their social media channel or what a rival journalist once wrote in a men’s mag decades ago.

What are the top things about working as as an adland journo? 
Free donuts. Free booze. Free merch. Karaoke. Watching execs pad up in the UnLtd Big Clash cricket match. A dizzying merry-go-round of super fun, industry events. The best thing I would say are the wonderful people you meet who become not only valuable contacts, but friends.

Best freebie you’ve ever had? 
Press invites to major sports and music events on islands are always a winner. Nine usually produces the best range of merch - especially those bloody pens. To be honest, the best junket I ever had was covering another sector (sorry adland) - a two-day ‘press trip’ to watch a famous yacht race on the official stewards’ boat while staying in a nearby castle. Tickets to the tennis, cricket and F1 racing aren’t too shabby though.

And the worst bit about being an adland journo?
Sometimes, you cover really inane, vacuous shit (Kendall Jenner Pepsi ad or food bloggers invited to a posh restaurant to post Insta pics of toothpaste) where you begin to question ‘is this really what my career has come too?’. Sometimes you see patterns in the same ‘shiny new toy’ marketing wankery, metrics mistakes/apologies, short-termism and other fads that are repeated ad nauseam over and over and over again like a broken record of mediocrity. But, these are very minor gripes compared to the upsides.

One thing that can be depressing is that you are observing your colleagues and peers lose their jobs on a regular basis. That’s probably the worst part, having a front-row seat to watch the industry you are passionate about slowly dying.

How’s the landscape for adland journos changing?
Teams are getting much more stretched with fewer and less experienced journalists trying to produce the same (if not more) stuff. It feels like media companies everywhere are replacing senior talent with juniors — if at all. This means newsrooms lose industry knowledge and important relationships with contacts and have less time to do proper investigative work. I also feel that digital media and ad tech — which can be quite a complex area to cover — is such a huge part of advertising now, but few understand it and cover it with the critical mindset that is required.

Wages, working pressures and work life balance. What are your observations?
Journalists get paid an absolute pittance for what they are expected to do. Even Roy Morgan on Facebook is on a better biscuit and a he’s a part–time digital philanderer and Darlinghurst socialite. The job is quite stressful — long hours and many after–work events — some of these events serve way too many bloody arancini balls, which taste effing woeful in the back of your throat the next morning mixed with wine and regret.

Here’s a breakdown of why we do it. Firstly, we are 90% doing it for passion, 9% for perks (live sport, TV show screenings, Channel Nine merch) and perhaps 1% to earn a crust. Secondly, we are bloody terrible at work–life balance because we are doing it mostly for passion, a little for the perks (I’m hoping Ten really lifts its game in this area now it has new ownership) and certainly not because we just want to earn a crust. It’s a real shame because I’ve seen so many talented young journalists (the ones who aren’t made redundant) leave for comms, PR, marketing or something else because they can earn a shitload more for less effort and lead a more balanced life. There are few old hacks left; they’ve either burnt out, been replaced by a shiny young thing or fled to do PR before they run out of useful years to earn super.

How would you summarise the adland journos in general?
The ones I’ve met have all been lovely with one or two exceptions. There’s definitely churn–over because the role can be quite taxing in terms of work–life balance, and there’s probably a bit of a ceiling you can hit where career progression and development stalls. We get to do a bit more events stuff, which can be fun, but a pay rise is also kinda fun, if you get what I mean. All good journos are competitive, adland is no exception.

Dealing with the execs — big egos, warts and all — how is it?
There are going to be a few bad apples in every industry and clearly there is a diversity issue (racial and gender), but the majority of executives I’ve dealt with have been genuinely good people to me, and very professional. What I find is that if you are willing to put in the time to get to know people — whether it’s over a beer or a coffee or a lunch — you get much more out of it. Although, there are plenty of egos and agendas at play, executives in adland and the media are much more open than in most other industries. That said, I know a couple of female colleagues who have been made to feel awkward from inappropriate advances and there was that scandalous time those burlesque singers performed at a grown–ups agency party — so my experiences may not be consistent with others.

Journos bullied by execs. Does this really happen and why?
It does, but very rarely. There is one large multinational that will aggressively try and pressure you into changing your angle when you write something that it doesn't like. Let’s just say that its public spin does not always align with its approach to dealing with the press, and there have been quite a few examples of this. There’s been a couple of execs who will call you to challenge what you’ve written or the angle you’ve chosen to pursue. I find that you can often find common ground if you talk it out, and sometimes you respectfully agree to disagree, but our job isn’t to please people — we would be doing a shit job if we pleased everyone.

Overall, working as a journo in B2B. A thankless job or incredibly rewarding?
Working as an adland journo is rewarding in every way except financial. It’s rewarding because you get to cover a dynamic, fast–moving and always interesting industry. It’s rewarding because you get to meet intelligent, charismatic and inspiring people, some of who you will befriend. It’s rewarding because you get to attend so many incredible events that most others don’t even know exist. It’s rewarding because you get to learn so much about your own industry and why you became a journalist — and also why one day you may have to leave.

What advice would you give to a publisher on making their editorial team’s life better? 
You can’t sell a Mercedes if your engineers are only trained to manufacture a Hyundai Excel. Invest in your editorial team because quality journalism is more important for survival now than at any time in the past. Also, look after your newsroom. Burnout is a massive issue and losing talented staff to burnout is expensive and will only hurt your title. And, you need a business model that will safeguard your journalism for the future. This means readers must pay for content (be it mag or online). All adland trade press titles are currently free online — I’m not convinced all three can afford to remain so.

Advice for adland execs on how they should view and treat industry journos?
It is in everyone’s interest in adland to support the media, and this includes the trade press. Support our journalism and our events. They are your events as much as ours and the trade press is where proper industry debate can and should take place. Continue to engage with all of adland titles, we each serve a slightly different audience and the industry is much healthier if all three are thriving. Without your support, slowly but surely the trade press will eventually wither away and then you’ll be left with Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to misinform you with shouty opinions, Kardashian gossip, cat videos and very questionable ROI!

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