In­dus­try Talk

The in­creas­ingly cor­po­rate na­ture of the ad­ver­tis­ing in­dus­try and its fo­cus on profit and share price is alien­at­ing young tal­ent

ArabAd - - CONTENTS - - I.A.

Mil­lenials take on the cor­po­rate ad world

“I be­lieve back in the day there was a great sense of pride, self-worth and ac­com­plish­ment work­ing in big cor­po­ra­tions,” says Lana Chukri. “Now, this sim­ply isn’t the case. Meet any­one in a suit and tie, and you feel the stereo­type is that they are rich, pompous, bor­ing, over­worked, ex­hausted peo­ple. No­body wants to be that per­son.”

Ar­guably the big­gest prob­lem fac­ing the ad­ver­tis­ing in­dus­try to­day is its in­abil­ity to at­tract and re­tain young tal­ent. Those 20some­things and early 30some­things who be­lieve agen­cies have be­come work­houses de­void of hu­man­ity, ped­dling sys­tems heav­ily rooted in fear.

Peo­ple such as Chukri, a free­lance art di­rec­tor and de­signer based in Beirut, and Luz Salem Vil­lamil, pop ups man­ager at Cin­ema Akil in Dubai.

Ac­cord­ing to a 2016 sur­vey by Deloitte, mil­len­ni­als (a gen­er­a­tional term re­jected by most it ap­plies to) ex­press lit­tle loy­alty to their em­ploy­ers, with many hav­ing one foot out of the door. The rea­sons for this are nu­mer­ous, but at the heart is a be­lief that “the suc­cess of a busi­ness should be mea­sured in terms of more than just its fi­nan­cial per­for­mance”. In­deed, most feel that the ma­jor­ity of busi­nesses have no am­bi­tion be­yond profit, even if they do be­lieve that much of the busi­ness world has a pos­i­tive im­pact upon wider so­ci­ety.

At­tract­ing (and re­tain­ing) tal­ent to an ad­ver­tis­ing in­dus­try that has be­come in­creas­ingly cor­po­rate is there­fore an up­hill strug­gle. Some would say an al­most im­pos­si­ble task.

A cul­ture of mis­ery

“Ad­ver­tis­ing has lost its mojo,” ad­mits Seyoan Vela, re­gional ex­ec­u­tive cre­ative di­rec­tor at Dubai-based agency Liv­in­groom. “It lacks the cul­tural im­pact it once seemed to have and amongst mil­len­ni­als ma­te­ri­al­ism is re­jected rather than cel­e­brated. At worst, ad­ver­tis­ing has be­come cor­po­rate and the peo­ple we want

in the in­dus­try who re­ject work­ing in a cor­po­rate en­vi­ron­ment will re­ject work­ing in ad­ver­tis­ing. Con­versely, the peo­ple we want in ad­ver­tis­ing who would feel com­fort­able in a cor­po­rate en­vi­ron­ment will get a bet­ter of­fer from plenty of other cor­po­ra­tions.”

It is all far re­moved from the days when agen­cies were largely pri­vate and founder owned, and strived not just for prof­its, but for cre­ativ­ity and an en­joy­ment of the work­ing en­vi­ron­ment.

“I left big agency life be­cause I felt there was very lit­tle I could do to utilise my strengths as a cre­ative, with the lim­i­ta­tions on cre­ative work and the men­tal­ity of say­ing ‘yes’ to ab­so­lutely every­thing a client wants for fear of los­ing that client,” says Chukri. “The pa­tri­ar­chal hi­er­ar­chy meant mostly hav­ing to kiss ass, sweet talk, for­get all kind of per­sonal life, work gru­elling hours with very av­er­age pay in or­der to make it to your next pro­mo­tion (with salary bumps that weren’t that ex­cep­tional). Leav­ing the of­fice on time was frowned upon… with su­pe­ri­ors mak­ing you feel guilty for hav­ing a life, or any ex­tracur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties.

“In some tech com­pa­nies most ex­tracur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties are not only en­cour­aged, but manda­tory. They be­lieve in nur­tur­ing their em­ploy­ees with work­shops, work trips for cul­tural events, talks and so on. The old ‘di­nosaurs’, how­ever, have yet to de­velop this work cul­ture and ethic, mak­ing ev­ery­one mis­er­able. And work­ing in mis­ery cre­ates projects, ideas and out­comes that are, well, mis­er­able.

“The blame then trick­les down from the man­age­ment to the em­ploy­ees,

mak­ing their em­ploy­ment feel threat­ened, as though the [fact that the] work is suf­fer­ing is due to lack of com­mit­ment and ded­i­ca­tion from the teams – which just stunts pro­duc­tiv­ity and mo­ti­va­tion even more, re­sult­ing in tons of res­ig­na­tions.

“In­stead of nur­tur­ing long-term em­ploy­ees, the cor­po­rate world is just ‘out with the old, in with the new’, fir­ing and re­sign­ing their older staff, and in­stead hir­ing young fresh grad­u­ates for lit­tle pay and less de­mands, who even­tu­ally end up quit­ting just the same in three to five years due to the same rea­sons.”

Luz Salem Vil­lamil, who is also a

I left big agency life be­cause I felt there was very lit­tle I could do to utilise my strengths as a cre­ative, with the lim­i­ta­tions on cre­ative work and the men­tal­ity of say­ing ‘yes’ to ab­so­lutely every­thing a client wants for fear of los­ing that client Lana Chukri, Free­lance art di­rec­tor / de­signer

free­lance mar­ket­ing con­sul­tant, left big agency life al­most two years ago. “I felt bu­reau­cracy was sti­fling cre­ativ­ity,” she says. “In my ex­pe­ri­ence, ideas did not take off the ground very quickly, de­ci­sions had to be checked, and pre-checked, and re-checked and then go through a round of ap­provals, and this process af­fected my mo­ti­va­tion and de­sire to even pitch ideas that I thought could have a pos­i­tive re­sult. Cor­po­rate pol­i­tics, ex­ces­sive ad­min and strict rules on work­ing hours and work­ing venues were a big part of it too.

“For in­stance, I don’t be­lieve there is any cor­re­la­tion be­tween your pro­duc­tiv­ity and your work sta­tion. Some­times the brain needs a rest from that cu­bi­cle, from that en­vi­ron­ment, and there’s not enough flex­i­bil­ity yet in that re­spect in a lot of cor­po­rate en­vi­ron­ments, even within the cre­ative in­dus­try. There is not enough trust that one would de­liver if one is not closely watched in an of­fice set­ting.”

Iron­i­cally, much of to­day’s ad­ver­tis­ing asks con­sumers to re-eval­u­ate their life­style de­ci­sions, telling them to break free, to re­con­sider their pri­or­i­ties, and to live a fuller life. Yet “in re­al­ity the cor­po­ra­tions them­selves don’t ap­ply those ex­pe­ri­ences and cul­ture to their own work­force” says Chukri. “Liv­ing the lie at times isn’t worth the pres­tige that comes with work­ing for a big name.”

Ac­cord­ing to a study by the Amer­i­can As­so­ci­a­tion of Ad­ver­tis­ing Agen­cies and Linkedin last year, turnover in the ad­ver­tis­ing in­dus­try is higher than in any other re­lated in­dus­try. Although com­pen­sa­tion was cited as an is­sue, it was not the main one, with lack of op­por­tu­nity for ad­vance­ment the big­gest prob­lem.

More en­tic­ing ca­reers

Mean­while, tech com­pa­nies, star­tups and in­ter­net giants are of­fer­ing far more en­tic­ing ca­reers. They also ap­pear to be more in sync with a spirit of en­trepreneuri­al­ism and so­cial con­scious­ness that many younger peo­ple iden­tify with.

Some agen­cies are at­tempt­ing to change, con­cen­trat­ing on cul­ture and cre­at­ing an en­vi­ron­ment in which em­ploy­ees feel they can thrive and do great work, but the re­al­ity is that hold­ing com­pa­nies by their very na­ture are cor­po­rate.

“It’s very hard to pre­tend any­thing, how­ever hard you may try to come across as free-spir­ited and in­de­pen­dent,” says Vela. “There is a lot of top-down con­trol and that is es­sen­tially every­thing that mil­len­ni­als are try­ing to es­cape. Com­bined with ad­ver­tis­ing be­ing a dirty word to most, it is a mas­sive chal­lenge.

“But then agen­cies have usu­ally thrived on mas­sive chal­lenges for their clients. It’s never too late. If they can suc­cess­fully re-in­vent them­selves as masters of con­tent, of ex­pe­ri­ence and en­ter­tain­ment, then they will again at­tract tal­ent. But that’s a big ask and a big but.”

For now, more and more will con­tinue the ex­o­dus to tech com­pa­nies, or opt for start-ups and the world of free­lanc­ing.

“I’m not go­ing to lie, it hasn’t been easy,” ad­mits Chukri. “But it has been grat­i­fy­ing, in ways which I didn’t feel work­ing at an agency. Do I get broke some­times? Yes. Do I get lonely work­ing at it mostly on my own? Yes. Do I get scared? Ev­ery day. But I fight the fear and get up and face a new day, set a new goal, book a meet­ing with a new po­ten­tial client, or prospec­tive project. If I mull things over, I for­give my­self and move on. I al­low my men­tal health days to check out and ac­cept when I am un­able to be pro­duc­tive.”

Would she con­sider a re­turn to net­work agency life?

“If you find me a net­work that un­der­stands that cre­ativ­ity is best in­spired through open com­mu­ni­ca­tion, un­der­stand­ing and con­sis­tent nur­tur­ing through cul­tural ex­change via work ben­e­fits (i.e. work­shops, train­ing pro­grams, cour­ses, talks, trips so on), then I’m on­board,” she replies. “There

is noth­ing bet­ter than work­ing in a com­pany that feels like a con­stant learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence and in turn makes me feel grate­ful and mo­ti­vated enough to want to give them your ab­so­lute 110 per cent day in and day out.”

Ad­ver­tis­ing has lost its mojo; it lacks the cul­tural im­pact it once seemed to have and amongst mil­len­ni­als ma­te­ri­al­ism is re­jected rather than cel­e­brated. Seyoan Vela, Re­gional ex­ec­u­tive cre­ative di­rec­tor at Liv­in­groom I felt bu­reau­cracy was VWLÁLQJ FUHDWLYLW\ ,Q P\ ex­pe­ri­ence, ideas did not take off the ground very quickly, de­ci­sions had to be checked, and prechecked, and re-checked and then go through a round of ap­provals, and this process af­fected my mo­ti­va­tion and de­sire to even pitch ideas that I thought could have a pos­i­tive re­sult. Luz Salem Vil­lamil, Free­lance mar­ket­ing con­sul­tant

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