When I came across an article in the Telegraph last week that listed being an advertising exec as one of the top five most overrated jobs, my first instinct was to defend our industry to the hilt. But even as I began mentally listing my arguments (of which there were, of course, many), I couldn’t help but see the journalist’s point of view.
Ask anyone who doesn’t work in our industry what it’s like to be in advertising and they’ll either recall images of cocktail parties and sipping whisky at our desks in true Mad Men style, or they’ll conjure up bleary-eyed execs spending all night and all weekend chained to their desks, working on pitches with limited sleep and limitless caffeine.
Of course, neither of these images is entirely true, and neither of them do our industry any justice. The Mad Men clichés are exactly that: clichés. And while we’ve all worked long hours in this industry more times than we care to remember (and more often than is necessary, in my view), we’ve had a lot of fun on the way and worked with some of the most inspiring people we could hope to meet.
This is an industry where you can be a scientist or an artist. And it's time we ensured the wider world knows this
For me, advertising’s biggest challenge right now in terms of attracting the best talent is one of perception. From innovative young start-ups to the digital heavyweights, the ever-burgeoning tech industry has been incredibly shrewd in the way it attracts the best talent away from advertising agencies. But advertising is no longer divided into traditional and digital camps. It’s a modern, dynamic and creative place to work. It’s an industry where people can explore the limits of their talents and work alongside vibrant, empowered people. Where you can be a scientist or an artist and therefore engage both sides of the brain. And it’s time we ensured the wider world knows this.
As an industry, we need to work together to raise the profile of our profession. To ensure potential recruits see it for the challenging, creative and fun job it is. But that’s not to say we don’t need to make changes to the way we operate. Young people are the bedrock of our industry, and with recent research indicating that they primarily want "friends and purpose" from their careers, we need to ensure we are delivering this. Giving our people more opportunities to be involved in work they truly believe in.
Likewise, working ridiculous hours and forfeiting a life outside of work needn’t be the norm. By striving for a greater work/life balance, I’m confident we’ll achieve just as much – if not more – and retain the best talent as a result.
I believe advertising is the best career there is. And with its constantly evolving nature, some of the most innovative and creative jobs in the industry are yet to be formed. Let’s ensure we attract the talent to fill them. Let’s give advertising its sexy back.
Lisa Thomas is the group chief executive of M&C Saatchi