A brilliant article that exposes some grim truths

I could reprint the whole thing, but it’s already appeared in Campaign, so here’s a link to its reappearance on the Coy-Com blog.

Mark Denton wrote it as his ‘View From The Top’ ten days ago. It’s funny, perceptive and painfully true.

It’s also brave.

That’s because hardly anyone in UK advertising ever dares to even consider nibbling the hand that feeds them, let alone doing what Mark did, which was to hold up a mirror (albeit a funny, charming one) to an ugly side of the entire industry. Yes, it’s about production companies but its main thrust is the way agencies, and by extension clients, have been complicit in the degradation of what we do. For the last ten years little things like respect, politeness, fairness and decency have been gently shuffled off the table like so many irrelevant crumbs and this article points that out with a wit whose subtlety is somewhat out of character for its author (the sense of humour, however, is delightfully Dentonesque). It’s also clear to anyone with an IQ in double figures that those behavioural compromises are symptomatic of a far more debilitating disease; one that has done its best to send the quality of advertising sliding gently downwards for years.

Fortunately Mark’s words touched something of a nerve and have since been discussed by the APA and the IPA. He has also been besieged by supportive emails and phone calls from as far away as San francisco, Sydney and Thailand (suggesting this problem is international), along with complimentary shouts in the streets of London. Agency producers have rung up to apologise and, most heartening of all, the quality and quantity of biscuits laid on at meetings has increased immeasurably.

Wonderful. I hope it also leads to more substantial results that bring permanent changes to the ridiculousness of the pitching process (by the way, I’ve recently heard that Blink will no longer pitch for jobs. Further much-needed bravery…)

I found myself cheering Mark’s words louder than most because I have friends on the production company side of the UK ad industry. It’s no exaggeration to say that I’ve spent much of the last decade hearing their increasingly strong and reasonable complaints about how much more they are being asked to do and how much less they are being paid to do it.

Yes, the job is a ‘fun’ and ‘interesting’ one when compared to most alternatives.

Yes, it can be very lucrative.

Yes, it’s not digging ditches.

But the hoops production companies now have to jump through for an ever-shrinking share of an ever-shrinking pot are the inevitable consequence of an industry that is having the fun and money squeezed out of it at an alarming rate. I’ve written before about the sliding wages (here’s a post from almost exactly three years ago) but I don’t think I’ve mentioned the knock-on effects of that belt-tightening on the other parts of the business.

I think the money side of it and the way that affects the end product is one thing, but the constant ridiculous demands that agencies make on production companies? How did that happen? The number of treatments required at all stages of the pitch is a ridiculous drain on resources that would be far better applied elsewhere. They started off as one small addition then gradually took over to become the colossal norm, but as Mark says, it’s a Google Images/Flickr/Instagram contest, where some unfortunate work experience lady (I generalise, but not that far from the truth) is asked to trawl through pictures of chimps and helicopters on the off-chance her selection will beat another bunch of chimp and helicopter pictures. How did we cope in the past, when there were no treatments, when you could tell from seeing a director’s reel and having a chat with him/her that he or she would be able to do the job?

The abrogation of responsibility in this industry is amazing: people who used to be able to make a decision based on their brain’s interpretation of some useful information now require their hand to be held as some poor sod spoon feeds them every last eventuality of what might occur. And what does that do to the creative process? It fucks with the magic: button down everything and nothing can fly.

Then there’s the other point that I’ve mentioned so many times: the less fun and pleasurable this industry becomes the fewer bright people it will attract and the worse the work will become, making the whole thing even less attractive. If I were starting out in the 60s and I saw how enjoyable advertising looked and how rich it could make me, as well the extent to which it could be a stepping stone to even more glamorous industries, such as movies or literature, I’d be in here like a shot. But the more of those benefits we remove, the less tempting it all seems to the next generation and the faster the downward spiral.

As Jesse J so perceptively put it, these days it’s all about the money, money, money, and anything that gets in that way of that will soon die an ignominious death.

We used to work in an industry where this couldn’t even win a Cannes Grand Prix:


Now this wins five:

I rest the case I’ve been making since 2006.