When I Grow Up, I Want To Be In Advertising

Not too many want to be in advertising when they grow up anymore. It is time we sit up, take notes, and ask ourselves, 'Why is this happening?'

At least that’s the way I had felt when I found myself at the end of my first agency internship over 17 years ago.

Cut to 2021.

I’m frantically dialling and DM-ing recruitment agents, old friends, random acquaintances and just about anyone who’ll listen to ask if they know of any promising young creative talent. “If I did, I’d hire them myself” ranks as the most popular response to my queries. “Ha!” is a close second. And I know I’m not alone in this. Nor is this a creative-centric issue. Across functions, every cabin and cubicle one peeks into has an occupant lamenting the absence of young blood and talent that will take the industry forward.

Clearly, not too many want to be in advertising when they grow up anymore. And honestly, it’s time we sat up, took notes, and asked ourselves, “Why is this happening?”

The first answer that’s staring us all in the face is a four-letter word. CTC. Gone are the days when newbies were willing to work for take-home salaries that barely took them home by local train. Today, the options available to young talent [whose predecessors would have made a beeline for traditional ad agencies] are diverse – they can join content creation outfits, internal creative teams that many large brands are cultivating, channels, OTT platforms and whatnots. And while I only have a few years of anecdotal evidence to support me, I’m going out on a limb here and declaring that each one of these options offers better starting salaries than agencies do. I’m not saying youngsters don’t dabble with us – but two years into their journey, if someone woos them with a 75% pay hike, then their decision writes itself. We would all like to hope that love and fresh air will keep them going with us, but alas, it seldom does. Money isn’t everything, many will now argue – and to a large extent, I agree. It is not. I know I didn’t stick around in this business because I was eyeballs deep in currency notes for the first ten years of my career – I stayed because I loved what I was doing. Which brings me to the second, more worrying problem we are facing as a collective – where’s the love?

This has, in my opinion, been the single biggest cause of the brain drain advertising agencies are witnessing, year on year. The joy of “cracking” that big idea, the thrill of executing it just right and the rush of seeing it out there in the real world is no longer the highs they once were. Perhaps this is because our job lists are always overflowing, like rivers in spate. Maybe it is because our ability to sell brave ideas has diminished. Maybe we don’t believe in the work we are creating or enjoy the process as much as we once did. Or is it that we’ve become somewhat transactional about a business that has people, emotions, feelings and insights at its very heart? Sure, sometimes advertising sells you stuff you don’t need. But what it also undeniably does, gives you the power of choice – it informs, engages and [when at its best] entertains you, so that you may do more, be more, and hopefully, live better. In recent years, the purview of advertising has extended dramatically to include shaping opinions, building awareness and inducing positive behaviour on a variety of subjects. The things we tell people can make them happy. Can change the way they think. Our job description in a nutshell, therefore, involves but is not limited to, selling everything from pin to piano. And the best part is, it’s like being in a new office every day – because ours is the one business that gets an opportunity to delve into how every other business functions. Why would this not excite a crop of professionals in the making? Why would they not see this line of work as a long-term prospect? Are we not talking to them enough? Not giving them opportunities that allow them to get a taste of what can potentially be? Not giving them the canvas to picture themselves doing this, ten years down the line?

I think much of this has to do with what we as an industry seem to have lost over time. Pride. While this may sound simplistic, I believe it is not. Pride in what we bring to the table may exist in pockets today – some agencies here, some individuals there – but if it were to be felt at an industry-wide level, it would be infectious. It would enable us to charge our clients fairly and remunerate people fairly in turn. It would egg us on to do the best work of our lives. And as a direct consequence, I believe it would draw youngsters into the fold and keep them there. Heck, we’re in advertising. We’re not changing the world. But we are impacting lives in small ways. And that should be reason enough for all of us to feel good about what we do and stay the course.

The Author is Pallavi Chakravarti, Creative Head – West DDB Mudra

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