ListenIn - Is anyone enjoying working in advertising right now?

Jason Pollock
By Jason Pollock | 30 August 2023
Christian Erfurt on Unsplash.

Is anyone enjoying working in advertising right now?

That was the 'sincere question' that Mark Pollard, the New York-based strategy CEO of Mighty Jungle and CEO of Sweathead asked his 40,000+ followers on LinkedIn.

Pollard said he attracts a lot of questions from people who are burnt out or questioning their careers.

"So, to me, it seems the majority of people in advertising are questioning whether they’ll stay in it for much longer," he said.

"It has been a challenging few years and this year has been especially challenging. I know a few people and companies that are crushing it but I’ve heard many agencies were down 30-40% in the first half of the year, freelancing is murky right now, and many are unsure about what’s to come."

Dan Beaumont, the Sydney-based managing partner of independent creative company The Royals, said having read a few comments on the post, it's clear things are tougher all over the world.

"Please don't lose sight of the fact that the creative business (not just the ad business) is immensely powerful and necessary," he said.

"Don't forget that great ideas can impact business. Don't forget that great ideas can build value. Don't forget that great ideas can change culture for good. Don't forget that great ideas can improve our own lives (job satisfaction for starters).

"If you let go of that faith then you've got no chance."

Jess Wheeler, the Victorian-based creative director at creative advertising and design agency SICKDOGWOLFMAN, said that the comments seemed to be leaning towards 'big agency no' and 'independent agency/operator yes'.

"We're having a cracking year so far, so I'm in the same camp. Still one of the best jobs in the world," he said.

"Maybe we're collectively realising that creative businesses run by beancounters wasn't such a great idea after all."

Tim Spencer, formerly the acting global head of cultural insight at We Are Social in London, said that when he worked in big ad agencies in the '90s, it was entirely different.

"I can't easily or succinctly nail the differences, but for all of its faults back then (and the faults were many) it had a lot more gusto and passion and idiosyncrasy as an industry. You could be an East End barrow pusher and become the best CD on the planet, because you had the common touch and a certain twinkle in the eye," he said.

"Now you have to have a proven track record in a very narrow groove and really nobody cares for your persona or character, you just need to be efficient, plugged in to a particular task portal, and able to follow set protocol.

"Clients used to pay ad agencies retainers, and those were spent quite liberally by agencies in the name of being creatively capable.

"The last agency I was in, the people doing the hard work were prescribed in advance each week the hours they could spend on a project. They were not generous hours. They were the kind of hours it used to take to get warmed to the task.

"There's no way for agencies to accommodate off-timesheet exploration, digging around looking for magic. Magic itself is not included in the program of work now.

"Nobody bucks the system because nobody knows how to anymore. We're flightless birds."

Kammie McArthur, a freelance copywriter and creative director in Seattle, Washington, said that she loves working in advertising more than ever.

"Not saying that an advertising career is not demanding - it is and it was especially hard when I became a mom (in a CD position, as well) at a time when flexibility wasn't really a thing," she said.

"The concept of trying to balance work and life was offset by my need to convince everyone (the vast majority of my dept were males, either single or with wives who stayed home) that I could work just as hard, and as many hours, as ever, as a mom.

"That part I regret a bit, because I did make some sacrifices/tradeoffs for reasons that now seem utterly unimportant. But, mostly, somehow, I made it all work.

"I don't feel burnt out or discouraged at all. It's the opposite. I feel lucky. And I think that has everything to do with the fact that I have worked with/currently work with incredible, and kind, people. That's the most important part. (It's not the work that burns people out)."

Lyle Shemer, the head of creative for North America at Meta based out of New York City, outlined a large number of reasons that he believes have created a highly contentious and unfriendly environment for people who seek to imbue their work with truth and humanity.

"The proliferation of charlatans (on platforms like LinkedIn!); the absence of a core body of knowledge that underpins the profession; the decline of mentoring; the blind faith in 'data'; the disregard for Kano effect and other marketing 'magic'; the shrinking budgets; the rise of procurement; the fragmented media landscape; the dubious promise of 'personalization'; the paltry salaries; the erosion of work/life balance; the fear of backlash; the obsession with short-term, transactional 'performance'; the consolidated power of holding companies; the rise of the mar-tech industrial complex; and the sheer disrespect for the long-term, transformative power of big ideas," he said, in a comment described by someone else on the post as a "tour de force".

Tahaab Rais, the chief strategy officer at Publicis Groupe in Dubai, UAE, said he loves working in the industry, as more than advertising, it’s creating.

"Stuff people can see. Stuff people can feel. Stuff that brings a little joy. Stuff that makes things a little better for people, a little bit at a time," he said.

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