STOPPING THE SLAVE TRADE: Nurturing talent has never been one of the advertising industry’s strong points but there is a solution, Andrew Cracknell argues, while a fledgling creative team give their view of life on the starting blocks
By ANDREW CRACKNELL, the executive creativ, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 16 June 2000 12:00AM
It’s a given. Whenever two creative directors are gathered together they shall whinge on about the inadequacy of the people turning up for first-time jobs in creative departments. But despite the fact that the moaning has gone on for at least ten years and that it’s now five years since we wailed and gnashed our teeth over the closure of the School of Communication Arts, none of us have done anything about it. In fact, if anything, we’re going even further in the wrong direction.
It’s a given. Whenever two creative directors are gathered together
they shall whinge on about the inadequacy of the people turning up for
first-time jobs in creative departments. But despite the fact that the
moaning has gone on for at least ten years and that it’s now five years
since we wailed and gnashed our teeth over the closure of the School of
Communication Arts, none of us have done anything about it. In fact, if
anything, we’re going even further in the wrong direction.
Next year, UK art colleges and polys will teach 128 advertising courses,
almost all of them creative.
Why? Why do they do it, when in 1998, in all types and sizes of
advertising and design agencies, all we took on was 172 absolute
beginners? Why is all this effort going into the production of thousands
of people we can’t use, with the raising of all those unrealisable
hopes, when it could go into the production of the few excellent
candidates we do want?
This wouldn’t be so bad if this overproduction led to an embarrassment
of riches. Sadly all it’s leading to is embarrassment.
Contemporary student books indicate that ’great’ ads should be
provocative in the sensationalist sense of the word. There’s no place
for provocation in an emotional, aesthetic or cerebral way.
The more detailed facets of art directional craft have long since been
neglected, the growth of the Apple Mac simply hastening the
There are junior art directors around who didn’t know that laying out an
ad was part of their job. Maybe it shouldn’t be.
Because it has suited us, we’ve encouraged them to apply to us as teams
and thus produced a whole generation of copywriters who set out with no
intention of being anything of the sort. They are graphics students who
flipped a coin halfway through art school to decide who would become the
art director and who the copywriter. But then, in this visual,
post-literate, ten-second-message society, why is writing important?
Because that lazy, slapdash analysis of society is hopelessly,
gloriously wrong. Look at existing book and magazine sales. As BMP DDB’s
Larry Barker said: ’Writing means something outside the advertising
Writing is important because of our pitiful radio standards. Writing is
important because press advertising still exists, although many try to
pretend it doesn’t. And, absurd though it may sound, writing even the
simplest of effective slogans or poster headlines needs a feel for the
balance, rhythm and true resonance of words. You’ve only got to look at
some of the wretched attempts I’ve seen to appreciate the point.
And how often do you see a decent dialogue commercial? Soap operas,
sitcoms and drama continue on television: the only place we’ve stopped
thinking about conversation is in television commercials. Why? Because a
lot of creative people have entered the business uninterested,
unpractised or frightened of words or dialogue.
You can’t blame the students. They can only regurgitate what they’ve
been fed and their diet is nothing like as rich or privileged as
previous generations of creative people. They had what amounted to an
Attached to group heads, they weren’t allowed near television for two or
three years. The art director came up from the bullpen and the
copywriter came with a university degree in something like English or
the Classics or, just as likely, off the streets, with an interest in
writing, a love of words and an eclecticism sprung from an understanding
that advertising is not the most important thing in our lives.
That said, among the inspirations for the Guinness ’surfer’ ad are Moby
Dick, Under Milk Wood and a 19th-century English painter, Walter Crane -
wonderful reassurance that not all contemporary advertising references
must be from previous advertising, other people’s reels or MTV.
But collapsing agency margins mean that any notion of creative
apprenticeships within agencies is unthinkable.
Everybody, even the placements, have to be generating income right from
the start. But there is a way of preparing the next generation of
creative people in a more considered, realistic and practical way, and
that’s by not trying to educate everybody but concentrating on an elite
few. Rather than giving everyone a ’go’ - as with the existing
disgraceful placement system, which would not be out of place as the
subject of a contemporary Dickens’ novel - we actually concentrate on
training properly only perhaps twice the number of people we need each
year. And that doesn’t mean a selection of art school graduates: it
means some from art school and some from the street.
In future, the creative directors who are interested in employing should
select the very best they can find, not for immediate employment but for
a place at a new school, to be set up under the aegis of D&AD or even
the IPA. It would be a sort of post-graduate college and maybe up to 40
students a year would go through a one-year course in the practice of
the job of an advertising art director or writer. The art directors
would be selected from art college, the writers from anywhere, as long
as they have a vocation to write. They would contact the panel with
samples of what they think they can do, a copy test - something that
catches the eye of the selectors.
Free to students
The selection panel would consist of creative directors from the
agencies that contribute a substantial fee to the upkeep of the college,
which would make it free to students. The year-long course would be,
maybe, three days at college and two days in the agency per week. It’s
the reverse of the norm, where you work at college and have day release
to the agency.
If the running and premises costs of such a college are too prohibitive
then it could be attached to somewhere such as the Royal College or
Saint Martin’s, giving the students further fantastic access to wider
aspects of creative backgrounds, references and tuition.
One or two tutors would be full-time but there would also be many
visiting lecturers from the great and good of agencies who would take it
seriously precisely because they would be paying for it and because it’s
At the end of the year, the students would have a book that would be
highly informed, highly creative and, hopefully, highly usable. Because
this would be a professional, post-graduate college and, because they
would already have one foot in the real world, we should be able to give
them briefs from the real world: ’Birdseye are in love with Captain
Birdseye - do the next generation of Fish Finger ads featuring Captain
Birdseye bring him up to date?’ At the moment, the received wisdom is
that students shouldn’t attempt briefs such as this because it
stultifies their imagination. Consequently, they end up wandering round
town with books full of crudely provocative ads for condoms and Soho
hairdressers, which prove nothing.
At the ’end of year show’, the agencies that have sponsored the students
would get first refusal in offering them jobs, with maybe a contractual
minimum employment period on both sides. If the agency chooses not to
take them up, they should still be eminently employable.
The advantage to the students - and the reason why they would give their
eye-teeth to get on this course - is that the rest of the advertising
community would know them as the creme de la creme, the post-graduate
students who were selected above all others and have since spent a
year’s apprenticeship in a high-octane school. Against the normal output
of art colleges, they’d have no trouble finding jobs. The contributing
agencies would know that they have first refusal on the cream, so they
should be satisfied.
This may limit the number of people who take advertising courses,
because they’ll feel that they still have a huge competitive hurdle at
the end of their three years. But that’s the reality anyway as year
after year we overproduce applicants.
Yes, it’s elitist. But then, until recently, the rest of the world saw
all of us in UK creative departments as an elite. But we’re slipping
We have to do something to regain the lost ground.
THE VIEW FROM BELOW: HOW DOES IT FEEL TO BE JUST STARTING OUT?
Trying to get a placement at an advertising agency is one of the hardest
tasks I’ve ever had. Traipsing around London, armed with our very
’fresh-out-of-college’ student portfolio was very daunting. Both
constructive and unhelpful criticism rained down on us, which we took in
our stride, but then we had the grilling of grillings. As we sat in the
office of a senior creative head at a top 20 agency, you could tell by
the look on his face as he flicked through our book that he was about to
lay into us. He did. He then went on to say that he couldn’t offer us a
placement at this time, so - after a deep breath - we thanked him for
his time and helpful advice and asked if we could come back and see him
again in a couple of months.
That same week we were fortunate enough to show our book to Mick Divito
and Chris Waite at Grey. Still feeling bruised from our earlier
experience, we handed over our book with trepidation. As they smiled at
our first campaign, we breathed a sigh of relief. Their comments on the
remainder of the book proved to be extremely helpful and constructive.
Both Mick and Chris said that they would like to be able to take us on
as the placement team but felt that it would be unfair as they were too
busy to offer any guarantee of time to assess our work on an ongoing
This is an extremely important point concerning placements. If we show
our book to a team who simply flick through it without offering any
advice, then this, I believe, shows how they are likely to react to us
You need people to be able to give you some time and guidance - after
all, we are the future of the advertising industry. If no-one gives us
the time now, how will we ever learn?
We are now on the D&AD workshop and it would be fantastic if placements
could work in the same way. A senior team spends an hour with us to
assess our work and offer ideas for alternative routes.
If placements are going to be effective and worthwhile for both parties,
the team in charge of placements at the agency needs to be able to give
you time to teach you how to work on and expand your ideas.
This is why I respect Mick and Chris’s honest approach. It would be very
disappointing to get into an agency such as Grey and find that everyone
For me, placements are for learning about the job and the industry.
Where else do you get the experience to see how an advertising agency
Showing teams our book is very beneficial and if we are fortunate enough
to get on a placement, then we can often tell how it will be as a result
of this first meeting.
After seeing Trevor Beattie with our book, who was also extremely
helpful, he said that he would try to get us in on placement. Two weeks
later, after chasing it up, we received a call from the creative
secretary asking if we would like to come in for two weeks.
Monday morning came and there we were sitting at our desk next to the
photocopier in TBWA GGT Simons Palmer, waiting to be briefed. Everyone
was busy, no-one could spare us five minutes to get us a brief. We
couldn’t help but feel they saw placements as part of the furniture.
There is no point in getting to know them as they’ll be gone in two
weeks and the next batch will be here. So we decided to craft our own
brief and started work on that. Thankfully, on Tuesday morning we were
briefed on something substantial.
This was the turning point. We now had a reason to communicate with
people, show that we were just like them and remind them that they too
were once, perhaps, on placement.
We were lucky enough to stay at TWBA for a full month and get some work
through into press. Although there were still a few people who wouldn’t
even acknowledge us, we were pleased to see that the majority of people
- who had been cold at first - had become our friends and have offered
to see our book whenever we want. We will be sure to keep in touch with
them in the hope of getting another placement.
We learnt so much at TBWA. Just being in that environment and surrounded
by some of the best creatives in the world has had an astounding affect
on us. Staying for a full month was a bonus. After all, what could we
really prove in two weeks? With a month, we were able to get some real
work done and get to know the people who worked there.
Carl and I are still waiting to be hired. Getting hired from a placement
is still something that we are waiting to experience, but we are holding
Rhys Edwards and his partner Carl Stenqvist are currently on placement
at AMV Advance.
This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk
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