Even in these egalitarian times, getting a job in an agency still
has echoes of the ’gentlemen and players’ attitudes that once sustained
the British class system.
For ’gentlemen’ read the graduate trainees, subject to rigorous
selection processes but cosseted once through the doors with structured
training and career paths assured by agencies prepared to invest in
honing their intellectual capacity.
For ’players’ read junior creatives, much more likely to come from
blue-collar backgrounds, with talents seen mainly as instinctive, and
forced to endure an exploitative and haphazard placements system that
sucks them in and spits them out with equal abandon.
Apologists for the system argue that, while it isn’t perfect, it does at
least separate the truly committed from the dilettantes in a massively
oversupplied market and that a little suffering will enhance the talent
That’s nonsense, says the IPA Creative Directors Forum - and it’s
Not only is it morally unacceptable that agencies should impoverish
their potential future stars, it is counterproductive. How can anybody
be expected to perform at their best if they’re worried where next
month’s rent is coming from? And little wonder that the blokish culture
bred by this hand-to-mouth lifestyle isn’t a comfortable environment for
women and that those finding their way into creative departments are so
scandalously few in number.
But while the forum is correct in trying to ensure that creative
hopefuls perform with an adequate financial safety net, it must ensure
that agencies’ own houses are in order before seeking concessions from
the Government. The days of slipping a temporary team a few quid out of
the petty cash are gone. Anybody working for a couple of weeks or more
is entitled to have their health and safety protected, a place on the
payroll and the national minimum wage of pounds 3.60 an hour.
These are the bare legal minimum requirements agencies must obey if they
take on creative placements. But there remains much to be done if the
industry is to get the best out of what Chris O’Shea, the forum’s
chairman, rightly calls its ’seedcorn’.
Today’s young people are less dedicated to the ruthless pursuit of a
particular career than they once were and they are becoming less
tolerant of industries treating them as cheap labour. If agencies don’t
value them and their ideas, they will simply go somewhere that does.