The Advertising Industry State of The Union: Fux0red

Tonight, the President Of The United States will be giving a State Of The Union Address.
That time when the dear leader will lay out an agenda that supposedly propels things forward, instead of just the usual status quo.

It makes me wonder. Does the advertising industry have a plan for itself? A way to change? Can we fix what's broken?

Ask yourself how many times this month you've been at the office past nine o'clock on a weeknight, or heading in on the afternoon during a sunny weekend day. How many times over the years have you sat there filling in your time sheets only to realize you worked a month, or two months straight?

How many birthdays, personal events, concert tickets, vacation days, anniversary dinners, PTA meetings, movie nights, date nights, help the kidlet with the homework mornings, and watch the first born's first sleepovers have you given up for another creative check-in that started four hours late because of someone else's ineptitude or total disregard for your quality of life?

Ask yourself how is your quality of life?

You already know the answer of course. You're fucked. Thanks to an impersonal and cruel business that chews people up, demands more than they have a right to, and then spits the same people out when a new and younger person comes along.

Every so often, a beautiful soul realizes it's a scam, writes a big missive and we pass along their sage thoughts and nod in agreement. And then we go back right back to our self-made purgatories.

Why is this? Why do we continue to work endless hours, even though we know damn well it destroys creativity?

An article I read today really got to me. it's something I've known all along but really reading it made it stand out. Because it's not just the long hours, but the reason behind the long hours that causes this to happen in the first place:

...the hours issue is ultimately just a symptom of a bigger one: the agency compensation model. As long as they continue to bill on an hourly rate and see their product commoditized further, the hours culture is going nowhere. Agencies need to find a way to more effectively charge based on their performance and the business outcomes they create for their clients, then things might start to change. If they get paid for only for the value they actually create, it stands to reason their staff will, too.

We are in a workaholic hell because of an outdated model no one wants to change, for fear they lose their slice of the pie. I would rather eat a little less pie and have a bit more quality of life if it meant fixing what is inherently wrong with our business model.

I once saw an overworked creative director receive an email that contained a photo of his kids. The subject line was "Remember us?" That person ended up getting a divorce.

I once had a workaholic boss who used to say "one day I will blink only to find my kids have grown up when I was busy working." That person is still saying this nearly five years later.

A friend of mine is being ignored in an agency creative department because he hasn't mastered the art of laughing at the right creative director's jokes so he can get a better assignment. He mistakenly believes doing great work will get him far. Which is why he's on the sidelines.

And then a friend of mine was laid off this week. This person has been a huge influence in my career. A mentor. They work hard. They're super smart. Very creative. They kick ass. Help win business. They're nice and yet not afraid to fight for the work. In any other industry this person would be viewed as an indispensable asset.

Not so in advertising. In this industry--in this stupid navel gazing industry that pretends to pride itself on creativity--we fear change more than anything else. Change might upset the bottom line, or someone might have to work instead of blowing smoke towards mirrors, or someone else might be threatened because they had the pick of the toys for years, and now a brighter star isn't merely playing with the toy but doing something great with it.

So a fucking brilliant person's head rolls. And the moron who has mediocre managerial skills but the political acumen that would make Machiavelli ashamed is the one who succeeds and gets failed upwards. Because it's business as usual. Because that's how it's always been done.

On one level the state of the union of advertising is exactly the way it's always been. Take a look at the industry. Really take a look at it. And then ask yourself one more question: is all this hard work and extra billing universally producing a better caliber of work? If the answer is no (and of course it is) then why are we listening to the same broken record?

I suspect there is hope. However, much like tonight's presidential state of the union address, it won't come from some words uttered by a man in a suit. Instead it will come from what gets done by regular people who can't stand listening to the same broken tune. For America and for advertising these changes have an outside chance at best. But at least the notion exists.

It exists in the people who learned the hard way, and the victims of the business model. It exists in the ones who despite giving blood from a stone, still have creativity left to spare. It exists in the talented creatives who got pushed out or edged aside or ignored or screwed due to too much experience, or a lack thereof, or not adhering to the holding company's realpolitik. It exists in people from all disciplines. Not just in the creative department. And one day, some day, one person will walk over to that player, smash the broken business model record to bits, and then put on something new.

It only takes one.

If only we weren't working so damn hard.