Keith Lucas, the European marketing communications manager for
Samsung, has written a provocative feature this week that addresses the
consultant versus agency debate from a seldom-heard viewpoint: that of
the client (page 38).
Among many points, he raises the issue of the lack of emphasis agencies
place on education. ’How many agency practitioners have ever studied the
theory of their subject?’ Lucas asks. ’If advertising is to raise its
professional status, this must surely be a prerequisite.
(Imagine your surprise if your lawyer had never consulted a textbook
dealing with the issue on which you were consulting him.)’
Put like that, it’s an important question that demands
I’ve never really believed that you can learn to be a great advertising
practitioner; there has to be room for instinct, the most underrated
virtue in the industry today. It’s true that too often instinct is
suffocated by research. But sometimes instinct - or feeling or hunch -
can be an apology for winging it; for not having put in the ground work
necessary to understand and address a problem in a manner rooted in
professional training and experience. Experience gives you the right to
have your instincts listened to. Without experience there’s just raw,
and sometimes misguided, talent.
As with journalism, I suspect half advertising’s practitioners have been
involved in some sort of industry training or another, while the other
half have not. But it’s arbitrary, not mandatory.
This isn’t the case in the professions. Advertising can’t have its cake
and eat it. It can’t put the quirky, zany and maverick on a pedestal at
the expense of the rational and scientific; it can’t inflict young and
untrained account handlers on experienced clients; it can’t be surprised
that creatives think they are creating art when they are recruited from
fine art courses at art colleges. Of course, while advertising isn’t
art, it isn’t an exact science either. Keith Lucas asks whether anyone
ever got promoted in advertising for knowing about theory. I’m not sure
they should. It’s not about passing through stages, as with GCSEs, A
levels and degrees. It’s about the practical application of knowledge
learned both on the job and (hopefully) in training. And
There may be something in Lucas’s observation that the business rewards
those who hop from job to job shrewdly, but you can apply that to
virtually any industry, from professional footballers to City traders.
Advertising appears to have more in common with City trading than the
If the industry is unhappy about the parallel (the other is with estate
agents), then there really is only one solution: set up formal training
schemes with compulsory qualifications. How many of today’s big names
would have got through?