Sex. Drugs. Rock ’n Roll.
They’re not really relevant to what I’m going to say. But I needed a more interesting beginning than ‘… As an industry, advertising is unique in many ways’.
It is, though. For one, nobody takes us by the hand and teaches us the business. Doctors, lawyers, chartered accountants, all end their education with degrees that say, “I know this stuff. If you want a cure for irritable bowel syndrome (or a lawsuit against your landlord, or some quick book-fixing) then I’m your man.” We, on the other hand, get out of ad school or management college with… well, at best, a vague idea of how advertising allegedly works.
The job is the education for most of us. I know enough people in our field who regret doing their BMM or mass comm. course because, quite simply, they believe that they could’ve used that time better by interning in some agency. It would’ve shown up as experience on their CVs and pushed them a couple of rungs higher up the corporate ladder.
But what about the learning? Where does that come from? I think for most part, we see and learn. Like kids and swearing. We behave with account executives the way we see our bosses behave with them. We pun in headlines if our bosses approve of puns. The good, the bad, the ugly – what we see is what we learn. And not all that we learn is necessarily right.
Take brand building. Sure, from a junior writer right up till an ACD, everybody knows how to crack a campaign. There’s an idea, there’s a TVC, there’s a visual, there’s a headline, there’s 360 and voila! There’s a campaign. But it takes more than a campaign to build a brand. It takes co-operation from the client. How do you get that? How do you build a relationship with clients? How do you get them to trust you?
Certainly not by going to battle blindfolded. And I’m afraid that’s what a lot of us do. Harping about “the creative process” is all good, but we certainly can’t ignore the fact that advertising is as much a business as it is an art. And let’s face it, they don’t teach you business in Copywriting 101.
In truth though, not knowing the business of advertising doesn’t always make a dent in anyone’s career graph. There are quite a few people out there who change jobs every year, gathering fancier and fancier designations with every jump. It’s no longer uncommon to see those with 5-6 years of experience in the industry land plum jobs as Creative Directors. In an industry that prides itself on being in touch with the youth, it’s heartening for sure. But how much can one learn in 5-6 years? Enough to be a CD? Maybe. After all, Alex Bogusky did.
But the rest of us non-geniuses, we need teachers. Bosses, who can teach us both the craft and the business of advertising. Creative Directors who’ve been around for a while, who’ve seen the best and worst of the industry, of clients, of themselves. A few dozen lessons and maybe we’ll be ready to not embarrass our agency and our clients with our work. Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of working with people like these. Their methods have varied, but the sincerity of their purpose hasn’t. And for that, I’m thankful.
I suppose all I’m trying to say is this: if you have it in you to teach and you see someone with promise, take them under your wing. Teach them to get out of the ‘this will do for now’ trap, the ‘client wants it’ trap, the ‘servicing is always wrong’ trap. Teach them to get the best out of themselves.
And if you’re a junior at any level, and find someone willing to teach you not the tricks of the trade, but the trade itself, then don’t think twice. Pack up your ego into a neat little bundle, shove it in the bottom drawer and turn the key. Then, flip open your mental notebook and take notes. Learn all you can and learn well, because ten years down the line, you may be in a position to pass on the favour.
And if you’re a fast learner, maybe it’ll take just five.
Vedashree Khambete is an ACD with Mudra, a writer at heart and a coffee-addict by vocation.