Before it can attract the best young talent into its open arms, the advertising industry needs to solve its identity crisis.
Twenty years ago it was easy to see the appeal of the advertising industry. It was simple: your creative work would be on television and posters everywhere, your ideas made famous. Someone would ask you what you do, and they would get it. You could show your mum and dad what you‘ve been up to.
Now, finding yourself on the other side of that all-too-common question can make young media types squirm. "Well, we do a range of things really. Videos, online, TV ads, social stuff." After a few awkward moments, you’re explaining the nuances of "digital" and using the word "touchpoints" as people glance at their watches.
As the type of work an advertising agency could do expanded, it became more difficult to explain to others. Which, in turn, made it harder to package up and invite people into.
"Join us. We’re a digital agency that brings brands to life through media agnostic solutions".
In the absence of big, singular channels and big, single-minded budgets, the industry has become a myriad of smaller voices. The world has become a more complex place, not because we face bigger problems than those before us, but because we are starting to realise that solutions that only work for a small number of people are not good enough.
There are so many different ways to communicate with people, but how do we make sure that we are picking the right ones? That’s where we have been going wrong, focusing too much on the delivery and not enough on the message.
All of these different creative ideas need to be joined up. It’s then that the smaller voices can become more powerful. It’s then that agencies can start to look beyond short-term campaigns and start having an influence on the way businesses actually work. When we start to focus on the bigger problems our clients are facing, we can navigate a way around the smaller ones that arise along the way. These are the kind of opportunities that the most talented among us are looking for.
Which brings me to the second part of the identity crisis. It’s not just a question of what the advertising industry is doing, it’s a question of who is doing it.
Advertising has always been a reflection of the people who hold the microphone, and for a long time that has been a small group of people. But this is where the advertising industry has an advantage over others. Anyone can do it. What I mean by that is that it has the power to be accessible to everyone. The idea that ad agencies are populated by men in suits is fading and women are being better represented than ever before.
There is still a long way to go, but showing the world that anyone can work in the industry is key to its continued success and relevance. Just look at the tech industry. A recent survey found that seven in 10 young people interested in a career in tech were men, with young women stating that they think a career in tech is "not for people like them". There is a perception that only men work in tech, because they are the only people seen to be working in tech.
We have to accept that the best talent can come from anywhere, and that representation is a huge part of showing people what is possible. We also have to lower the barriers to entry. Should young people be expected to spend £30,000 on their university education to get into the industry, or can we find ways to support and train those who can’t afford to take on that level of debt?
Only by challenging the way that our industry functions will we help straighten out what we do. It’s that clarity that will help us continue to attract the best and brightest. As new technologies and communication channels have become available, we have shifted our focus to search for the ones that will help our clients reach the right people.
It’s time now to look at the way to connect all of these different voices together, to look for the ideas that go beyond short-term problems and create more exciting creative opportunities.