Thursday, April 13, 2006

Advertising and Talent

Once upon a time, anyone remotely inclined towards the nebulous area called creativity or any angrez with the right accent, education, lifestyle (“theatah and all that ole’ boy!”) and connections, immediately gravitated (or was sucked in by) the ad world. Academics, journalism and advertising seemed to be the only avenues open to this constituency in terms of career choices, with the last appearing more glamorous than the other two. Hence, the early entrants who sashayed in (with zilch reference points and baggage), were in a fashion, adventurers, who came with a hope and a prayer; wishing for the best but (kinda) prepared for the worst!

Those were the early days for the ad industry as well, and the journey to shape, form and construct a legitimate structure, blue-print, business-model or road map was fraught with a myriad speed breakers and road blocks. This brought with it, its very own set of challenges and opportunities, frequently attracting individuals (freako’s?) who dared to break away from the traditionally preferred “sweetheart jobs” like banking, engineering, law, medicine and (the biggest) government services.

With time however, the ad industry began to evolve and get its act together to become more sophisticated and project itself as a professional, result-oriented marketing ally, leveraging creativity in the crucial & cutting-edge areas of altering habits, shaping beliefs and persuading the hydra-headed consuming community to bite into their BIG IDEA…

Today while advertising is largely recognised as a high profile, glamorous & significant industry of Rs.13,200 crore, has the recent, red-hot new entrants – IT, banking, retail, real estate, finance, healthcare, entertainment – somewhat diluted its sex-appeal?! Is it perceived as frivolous compared to other vocations, demanding a lesser degree of focus, discipline and seriousness of the cerebral kind? Is the compensation package as good? What about the growth prospects and working environment? Is it still a juicy and attractive carrot as a preferred choice of career for today’s new age kids of the creative, talented, ambitious and driven kind… or is ad land just another entertaining, interesting and useful first-stop to begin, before graduating to hotter zones?

4Ps checks out the scene with some hard-nosed practitioners and the conclusion...? Well, read on and decide for yourself!!

“I think the major problem with the industry lies in the image it projects – frivolous, clever-by-halves, superficial!” That was Esha Guha, CEO, NewField’s Advertising, New Delhi. She bemoans the lack of seriousness that seems to underline the profession as a calling and is pained at the fact that no corrective measure seems to be in place.

“The result is that the quality students of B-schools appear more inclined to enter vocations that challenge them. Even mass comm. students indicate a preference for journalism or PR to advertising,” Guha adds. She believes that the process of attracting the right talent in a meaningful way, too, is non-existent as there are no scientific benchmarks or tried-and-tested parameters and the head-hunters are usually way off-line. The bottom line is total confusion about what the ad business is all about, what it does and how it can be an exciting, creative & worthwhile career choice.
“The pity is that advertising can and sometimes has played a major role in championing causes that touch social issues (healthcare, woman empowerment) ...the works. But people usually don’t see it in that role, thanks to the media. They invariably seem to forever pick the same slick, glib, witty, wacko spokespersons, the dial-a-quote guys, which sends out the wrong signal to the serious minded students looking for a career,” points out this feisty ad-woman.

Freddy Birdy, the iconic creative director and the joint partner of The Shop, puts it down to an explosion of exciting, never before creative choices, “10 years ago could you imagine even breathing words like DJ, RJ, chef, fashion designer, salon/pub owner, home decorater, furniture manufacturer and creative director for a TV channel in public, without the fear of being castrated? Today, these are considered glamorous, well paying, creative and perfectly respectable career avenues. So advertising is no longer a big deal for the creative guys.” Birdy adds (tongue firmly in cheek), “Besides, some of the stuff that is bandied off as brilliant, must inspire a lot of the ad guys to switch careers in a hurry!”

“You don’t need to know rocket science to provide the answer, which is ‘no’! And the reason is simple. Unlike yesteryears, the career choices for a student of the humanities stream today are ridiculously vast.” This was Syeda Imam, E.V.P Creative, Contract & Ex Central Asia Creative Chief, JWT. Imam agrees that kids still do roll in but not necessarily in the same dedicated and committed fashion as in an earlier era. It’s more in the nature of ‘will it suit me? How much will I make? How fast will I grow?’ etc. This is largely, Imam believes, in sync with the times and environment which offers a range of career options and choices (films, media, events) that provide relish, ambitious growth prospects and lucrative pay cheques in one heady, gorgeous and seductive package.

The final throw must come from the insightful and analytical, President of McCann, Santosh Desai, who confessed, right at the outset, that attracting and retaining quality talent has never been such a 7-star nightmare! “Let’s begin from the beginning. Earlier on, advertising was seen as a rarefied and refined pursuit that also passed off as business, attracting individuals who enjoyed and flirted with arty, cultural and intellectual activities. The real change happened with the MBA-isation of advertising in the mid/late 70s when the business and marketing aspects stormed centrestage, decimating the arty stuff in one fell swoop. Suddenly, everything – people, language, culture, direction, mandate – changed. Today it is totally a business with value-extraction, a critical component, leaving very little money to attract good talent at the mid and entry level and now with the b-schools making front page news every week relating to insane pay packets, life for us is getting more difficult.”

At the end of the day, Desai believes, it’s becoming tougher for people who love advertising to remain in advertising. Casualty one is the remuneration package. The other, the heart is going out of the hurrahs. Fun and joy are disappearing. The time frames, pressures and bottom line obsessing are getting crazier by the second, impacting team-building and bonding. It appears to be a case of doing too much to get too little. Hence, today, for people to fall in love with what they do when they come into an agency, (their work, their creations, their art & thought), is becoming progressively more difficult, which is making the situation grim. Its sad, but it’s a sign of the times we live in...


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