OPINION: Placements still in the sweatshop era

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.

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 emerges.



That’s nonsense, says the IPA Creative Directors Forum - and it’s

right.



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.



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