So what advice do I give my daughter if she considers advertising as a career? I have enough time (about 15 years) to think of a response but if I were to do so based on the industry of today? The positives of joining the industry are quite a few. What about the negatives? Maybe I should just point her towards AdScam who will tell her what’s wrong with the industry in a manner only he can, expletives and all. Or maybe I can list some points that come to mind:
Get paid less for what you enjoy doing: the entry level pay in advertising is poor compared to say Banking, FMCG marketing, media or telecom. The pay gets better as you climb up the ladder but nowhere near what a similarly experienced manager in a client company would get. At the very top of the agency tree its perhaps comparable to senior executives in other industries. Why so? An agency’s ability to attract & retain talent is dependent on its earnings (duh) which is directly linked to the remuneration received from the client. And for reasons mostly self inflicted, the agency business is getting squeezed, resulting in a crisis of talent management.
“Dude, this is advertising. You’re not pullin’ babies out of burning buildings. You’re not curing cancer or making peace. You make commercials for cry-eye. Websites. End-aisle displays. Jesus.”
Advertising does play a role in changing societal behaviour and when it happens for a good cause it is satisfying. But largely it is to help sell everyday stuff. Even those campaigns can be satisying especially if they deliver results. While the industry folk know this, they tend to obsess over the irrelevant things. Yes, your work is important simply because it’s important for the client, who is paying for it. You have to take it seriously, be passionate about it and give it your best. But a little bit of perspective never hurts. The kind of revenues the ad industry makes is pittance compared to other businesses – what an agency earns in a year is what a big FMCG or telecom company earns in a month or even less. Advertising does help build brands but there are a lot of other contributions too. I am not saying compromise on quality or have a ‘chalta hai‘ attitude. Yet so many unwarranted outbursts (‘that AE forgot to give me the agenda for tomorrow’s meeting! How dare he!’) over issues that can be sorted out easily, occur every day. The Denver Egotist puts it way better than I can.
Training, career path or the lack of it: perhaps a handful of agencies actually have a formal training program for new recruits. Mostly, it is a ‘learn on the job’ attitude, tagged along with a senior who perhaps learnt on the job too. Even for middle level managers or seniors, a new agency job simply means plunging into the task at hand. There’s no time or bandwidth to indulge in stuff like taking them through the agency culture, outlining expectations and so on. While it is acknowledged that in any industry there are 3 broad levels – directional, supervisory and executional, in advertising designations are invented at almost every level.
Living in perpetual crisis: being a service industry one is expected to respond to client requests and deliver under pressure. But on a larger scheme of things, the industry seems to be responding to one crisis after the other: the creation of specialist units and the irrelevance of the ‘generalist’; from being a strategic partner to being a vendor; the talent management issue, the award show issue…the list goes on.
There are other negatives too: politics, egos, personal agendas – common to other industries. And then there is the struggle to do what you think is right and the need to do what the client wants. Funny thing is, it is still a great industry to be in. Especially if you are passionate about the business of advertising. The joy of creating an idea out of nothing…an idea that can positively impact a brand and in turn influence the client company is priceless.
So do the positives outweigh the negatives?