Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Sweet Sweat Equity

Creative people in ad agencies want something to show for their work. They want to be able to hold it, touch it, see it and show it to other people and say, "Look what I've done."

Or, more accurately, "look what we, with the help of our client partners, a production company, a mixing house and a staff of editors and color-correction button-pushers, have done."

The point is, we want something tangible.
Something that validates our chosen line of pursuit.

Ad agencies on the other hand want, or more accurately, need satisfied clients. They need to keep the lights on, the bills paid and the coffee machines fully stocked. The best way to accomplish that is to fill the roster of happy clients, with more happy clients.  Hopefully, with bigger budgets.

This relentless push for growth often requires time. More time that the regularly allotted 40 hours enjoyed by the average American salary man or woman.

And so, creative people and occasionally planners who might need to redraw some Venn diagrams, are asked (maybe asked is not the right word) to sacrifice their nights and weekends. It's an ugly push-pull situation that makes for a lot of sulky dissatisfaction as well as some excellent colorful reading on Glass Door.

Is there a solution?

I'm just a 44 year old freelance copywriter with a plateful of assignments I'm putting off, but allow me to extemporize a little.

I know margins are low. And after paying out all the Chief Anthropology Officers, Experiential Ninjas and Global World International Pubas who do such heavy lifting for the holding companies, it's harder than ever for an ad agency to turn a profit.

But what about Sweat Equity?

What if for instance, for every stolen weekend, an art director or a copywriter would earn a credit. Partial credits would also be doled out for late nights. Or missed vacation time. At the end of a year, a hardworking ad agency creative could accrue a significant amount of credits.

How would those credits be paid, you might ask?

Good question.

But here's the thing. Ad agencies love to beat their chest about how they are a center for creativity. It's why we hear such bloviated terminology as, "we're not an ad agency, we're an Idea Factory."

Or, "We incubate the imagination."

Or, "We're redefining pop culture with our unique brand of entertainvertising."

Sure, hand me that box of tissues, would you?

In short, there's a lot of lip service about making stuff without ever doing anything to encourage the making of stuff. Nor giving the employees the actual time it takes to make said stuff.

So what if agencies reimbursed those credits with supplies, equipment or access to facilities that would bring the unmanifested passion of creatives to fruition? What if the credits, earned by sacrificing precious time, could be used to make a short film? Or stage an art show? Or defray the cost of self-publishing a book?

What if, and I'm just spitballing here, agencies stole a page from the early playbook of the Vatican and became the curator/sponsor of their own in-house artists? They could actually be the studio they boast so freely about in the agency credentials page. Given enough thought I think you can agree this could  be a win-win situation.

I know there will be some, ok many, who will scoff and write this off as the ramblings of a naive misanthrope who is completely clueless as to the finances and operations of a modern day advertising agency.

However, I am privy to the soaring frustration and disillusionment of the creative community and I see the millions of dollars being thrown at retaining current employees and the recruitment of new ones. Millions of dollars. None of it producing any effective results.

So who's being naive?


Cecil B. DeMille said...

I've said similar words before myself: http://theslant.co/team-players/

Advertising agencies better hope and pray that creatives don't find a way to unionize. The motion graphics industry – movie special effects makers – are pondering it. If agencies think it's hard to earn a dime now, wait until the department that actually produces work goes union. I am having fun imagining how much money holding companies would spend to lobby against it.

The vision is absolutely delicious. And I hate unions as a general rule, though exceptions are out there.

Rich Siegel said...

Nice job Cecil. We are on the same page.
Can you PM me at siegelrich@mac.com

Anonymous said...

I'm on board. I've been totally waiting for this to Unionize. It should be done. Want to partner up and start this entity?
ADDU (add you or adieu, both welcome/goodbye at the same time)

Advertising Design & Directors Union


Cecil B. DeMille said...


I'm actually a writer by trade. I think we should include them in our acronym/initialism. Har har.