Opinion: Perspective - Radical thinking will free industry of sameyness

"Everyone has talent. What is rare is the courage to follow the talent to the dark places where it leads." It's not often that you'll find Erica Jong quoted in the pages of Campaign, but her words seem particularly appropriate for the current debate on sourcing the best creative people.

In a recent issue of Campaign Rory Sutherland, OgilvyOne's vice-chairman and the head of the IPA's creative forum, argued that the ad industry is being too narrow and conservative in the way it hires creative talent.

If only Jong had added something about looking in those dark places to discover that talent, then she'd have pretty much summed up Sutherland's sentiments.

The dark places, in ad terms, could be media agencies, account handling departments, client companies, benefit offices, the post-room - anywhere where people are passionate about advertising and may also have as much creative muscle as a raw recruit who's gone through the traditional art course system.

Those art colleges, Sutherland argues, are churning out people with the same ideas, the same way of doing things; there is no impetus to challenge conventions, to find new approaches or come up with fresh ideas. The result is a creative industry that has become too homogenised, too predictably samey.

I think most people would agree with Sutherland that the industry has become too risk-averse in its hiring policy. As Helen Limbley, currently on a placement at Clemmow Hornby Inge, says on page 23 this week, art school graduates come equipped with all the skills necessary to slip straight into the creative working environment; giving someone from, say, the research department who has no formal creative training a chance to make it in the brutal world of the creative department is a luxury that few agencies could afford today. It's not surprising, then, that so many people on Tony Cullingham's course at West Herts already work in advertising, love the business and want to shift into the creative sphere.

Cullingham is only half-joking with his talent spotting tips in this week's diary (page 27). But surely the industry should not just be aiming to open the creative door a chink and let in the odd interloper with a fresh perspective. How about throwing the door open and pushing young creative talent out to gain new insights from across the communications spectrum and, let's be radical here, from real-world consumers.

We should never underestimate the importance of craft skills, and keep up the momentum on training (particularly when it comes to writing skills).

But creative training - now more than ever - should surely embrace a greater understanding of media, of business issues and of consumer trends. If agencies can achieve that, then Sutherland's arguments for a broader creative intake become far less urgent.

Talking of diversity, the IPA census figures unveiled on our front page this week make dismal reading. Almost half of the industry's workforce is under 30, for starters. This could mean that we're all working in a dynamic, progressive business, full of energy and passion. But young people entering the business today often seem less committed to the notion of a long-term career. Of course, working in an industry which seems incapable of rewarding loyalty and experience across the long-term is unlikely to encourage young talent to hang around. In media agencies, where the rate of employee churn is both crippling and expensive, a staggering 64 per cent of employees are under 30.

And of the 237 agencies surveyed by the IPA, only 92 answered the question about their ethnic breakdown: 95 per cent of their employees are white.

The results show an industry out of step with the consumers it serves.

Again, a risk-averse culture and pressure on costs are partly to blame.

But it's surely in the interests of advertising's future that such excuses don't cloud the need for change.

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