CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/CREATIVE PLACEMENTS; Is there any alternative to creative placements?

Students are resigned to a scheme that is good and bad, Richard Cook reports

Students are resigned to a scheme that is good and bad, Richard Cook


When the great and good of the film world make their annual pilgrimage

to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles they do so in

expectation. Ditto those members of the advertising fraternity who made

their way to the Grosvenor House Hotel last week.

Both sets sit through speeches and what passes for entertainment; both

catch up with their peers; both do a little gladhanding. But the

similarity between the sets stops just about there.

While the latter rewards dedicated professionals with years of

experience, the former tends not to round off its evening by presenting

the best film Oscar to a couple of producers just filling in at the

studio for experience and pounds 50 a week expenses.

But that is effectively what happened at the Campaign Poster Awards last

week. The winning poster, by common consent out of the very top drawer,

was devised by the copywriter, Pete Cain, and art directed by his

partner, Louis Bogue, both of whom are currently on placement at M&C


Should we be worried? ‘The system of placements is a necessary evil,’

Tony Cullingham, the art direction course director at Watford College,

contends. ‘Ideally, they are part of a young team paying their dues in

the industry. The problem is that the system can and does suffer

considerable abuse from some agencies, and we have all sorts of horror

stories. One team of ours worked an 18-month placement, for example, was

D&AD-listed twice and still didn’t get a job. That sort of behaviour

drives people out of the industry and is a waste of talent.’

‘It’s a system that is open to exploitation and abuse,’ agrees Trevor

Beattie, creative director of TBWA and the chairman of last week’s

awards judges. ‘It causes problems with agencies taking advantage of

cheap talent; it causes problems with the Department of Social Security

and the taxman - both are completely baffled by the practice; but it is

still the best way for agencies to take a look at a team in a work-

experience situation, and for the team to get a taste of what the

industry is all about.’

That may be so, but it can be hard for the placement teams themselves to

see light at the end of the tunnel. The experience of Brendan Wilkins

and Paul Hancock, now an award-winning team at Duckworth Finn Grubb

Waters, is becoming increasingly typical. The pair spent 18 months on

placement at five different agencies before they were hired, through

headhunters, for Duckworth Finn - ironically, one of the small number of

agencies that doesn’t subscribe to the placement theory.

Starting at the business-to-business agency, First City BBDO, they moved

through GGK, Cowan Kemsley Taylor and Ogilvy and Mather, spending an

average of three months at each, before a seven-month stint at TBWA.

The ‘expenses’ paid to them over the period ranged from a travel card at

First City through to pounds 50 a week at O&M and TBWA to pounds 100 at

GGK. By the time they reached TBWA the pair were sufficiently proficient

to turn out 20 ads in one five-month burst, while coming up with the

successful idea for the Nissan Micra ‘Hollywood’ TV ad. Attending the

Beverly Hills shoot was a quality perk, and Beattie did provide a

financial bonus for the team, but generally they found the whole

placement process taxing.

‘It does get incredibly frustrating, and you do start to think why, if

you are good enough to produce ads that are getting through, you are not

good enough to get a job,’ Wilkins says. ‘Although we wouldn’t have got

the job here without all that effort on placement, it can be a real

financial struggle.’

In fact, Beattie would have liked to hire the pair but wasn’t in a

position to. Still, it hardly seems the most equitable or efficient

training programme.

‘They have graduate trainee schemes for account handlers and media

people,’ complains one creative currently on placement, ‘and yet seem

quite happy to let creatives eke out pounds 50 a week literally for

years at a time.’

J. Walter Thompson pays its placement creatives unusually well (see

table) - as it should.

After all, that is how the creative director, Jaspar Shelbourne, started

out himself.

‘The system that benefited me is pretty much the one still running,’ he

explains. ‘The placement offers what young creatives can’t get anywhere

else - the judgment of people who already do what it is that they are

wanting to do, and that is absolutely vital. Placements aren’t perfect

but the book isn’t enough evidence to take someone on and, at the end of

the day, it’s a buyer’s market.’

But even if no better system than placements currently exists, there are

ways for agencies to reduce the load on young creative teams. One is by

only offering placements for fixed periods, rather than stringing young

talent along in the hope of jobs that never seem to materialise.

‘We now take on teams for a fixed six-week period,’ Nick Kidney, who

runs the placement programme at WCRS, explains. ‘Then we call the really

good ones back for interview when there is a job going.

‘The other real problem,’ he continues, ‘is when these teams are working

on live campaigns that are being sold to the clients. In that case, I

try to get them put on freelance rates. Otherwise it quickly becomes

ridiculous, and they quite rightly start to lose faith in the whole



How agencies reward teams on creative placement


Agency                  Salary/week (pounds )    Comments

J. Walter Thompson      pounds 150

AMV BBDO                n/a                      Do not do placements

Ogilvy and Mather       pounds 50                Must sign off. Two-week


BMP DDB                 pounds 50                Bonus for ads that play

Saatchi and Saatchi     pounds 50

Bates Dorland           pounds 100               Two months minimum

Lowe Howard-Spink       Up to pounds 60

Grey                    pounds 60 if required

Publicis                pounds 100 after tax     One month only

WCRS                    pounds 50                Fixed six-week


McCann-Erickson         pounds 50                No fixed period

Euro RSCG Wnek Gosper   Expenses                 Two weeks, can be


Bartle Bogle Hegarty    pounds 150               Three months

Young and Rubicam       pounds 57 expenses       Minimum two weeks

TBWA                    pounds 50 to pounds 80

CDP                     pounds 60

HHCL                    Freelance contract

GGT                     pounds 100 to pounds 150

SOURCE: Agencies 1996



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