Thinking of leaving advertising? You’re not alone. We are a generation of ad-blockers who make ads for a living. In the past year, more peers than I can count have left the industry to work at start-ups, tech companies, primary schools, and most tellingly of all, nowhere.
These are the same talented twenty-somethings that fought their way into the industry over the last five years; winning places on sought-after grad-schemes for their energy, imagination and ambition.
Agencies of all sizes—regardless of their school reports - are leaking potential and few are batting an eyelid. When the leavers aren’t directors or "movers and shakers", it doesn’t make the news. We are in danger of a silent exodus.
This is not a wake-up call to management. This is a last call to you; the almost-leavers. Hear me out.
I held a round table to better understand the problem.
Twenty-somethings from a handful of agencies—from independent to network—shared their frustrations. The list was long, but the take-out was clear; why are we pouring so much time, energy and stress into something we so frequently remind ourselves is just advertising?
The world has changed a lot in sixty years, but the agency process hasn’t. It is designed to get us to the best creative answer; go, go, and go again until it’s cracked. But with less time, smaller budgets, and our competitors "moving fast and breaking things", our trusted process needs a reboot. We pour our hearts into content that people are hard-wired to ‘skip’, and it’s taking its toll. Mental health in the industry has hit a crippling low; last year Nabs saw a 67% increase in calls for emotional support.
Our generation has long been labelled "purpose-seeking-flexi-working-tech-natives", and although we scoff and tell anyone who refers to us as the "M word" to sod off, there’s a truth to the soul-searching stereotype. It’s dawning on the doers, that they could be doing more elsewhere.
The perception is that it’s easier to leave the industry than to change it. I call bullshit. At our agency, there’s a mantra, if you want a different answer, ask a different question. Frustrations aren’t facts. They are there to be questioned and challenged. You don’t have to be a CEO to create change, you just have to be willing to try something new. If we spent less time fixating on the problems, and more time asking questions—would as many of our peers leave?
We’ve recently started Rewire. It's a series of talks for our agency to provide a new source of creative inspiration; ranging from a guided tour of Sotheby’s to a reality check from a junior doctor. And as I type this, I’m at the BBC for a month on secondment with one clear goal; learn new skills and insights that I can bring back to our network. Our agencies are more receptive to our appetite for change than we might realise; it’s on us to ask the questions.
We’ve inherited an industry with immense power, but if we keep saying "it’s only advertising" that’s all it’ll ever be. Our industry is the now and the future, built around people and ideas. We are a creative force with the potential to change minds, grow economies, and shape culture. By leaving, we take with us the imagination and energy that the industry needs to thrive in changing times. Adland needs the brave and the curious in the driving seat. We’ve got the keys.
Leaving is the easy option.
Freya Bronwin is a strategist at Mcgarrybowen London.