Let me tell you a story. When I was growing up as an art director in London in the late 90s, I worked for an agency that was surely the inspiration for Mad Men. The CEO made a point of wearing Boss suits and pointing at the logo whenever someone disagreed him, the Copy Director drank 4 V&Ts every day in lieu of lunch, and the Creative Director kept a rubbish bin by his desk where your scamped ideas ended up whenever and whatever you presented to him. All true.
Intimidating? You bet. But that was agency life, right? Only the bullish and the ego-driven shall succeed. And many (notably women) rightly thought this was miserable and left the industry in droves.
But that was then and the agency world has moved on, surely. Well, let’s see.
Currently only 10% of creative jobs are open to people look for flexible working. So you may be the most experienced creative in London, but if you want to work four days and do the school run, you’ll be scratching around for roles.
Are we doing any better in the South West? Well, a very recent job ad I saw for a middleweight designer in Bristol warned ‘if this role feels intimidating, then it isn’t the role for you’. That will put off some really talented people, but good to know. Oh, and they also asked for ‘more than 3 but no more than 7 years experience’. Despite that not actually being legal, that’s a hell of a narrow range of late-20 somethings they’re targeting.
Think of the talent we’re missing out on. Think of the times people don’t apply for a role because they can’t tick every box on the 40 point checklist. Think of the diversity of skills, experiences and attitudes we could be encouraging to make our work more exciting, more relevant, more imaginative.
So what can we do? I’ll tell you what we’re doing, and it’s just a start. We’re looking at how we write job descriptions so we focus on the things that really matter, not an endless list of ‘nice to haves’. We’re choosing our words more carefully, so ‘confident…’ ‘strong…’ and ‘excels in’ don’t put off the people who really will excel, they just don’t know it. We’re reaching out to local schools and colleges to show students who’ve never even heard of the creative industries that they could do something really special with us. And flexible working is no longer a hard-negotiated perk, it’s a given.
With the increasing trend for in-house creative teams, agencies like to think we’re better because of the wider talent pool and experience we can offer. But that can only be true if we open our doors and our minds to what real talent is, and where it could come from.