Absentmindedly flicking through Twitter the other day, I came across a message from Dan Shute, the Managing Partner of agency Creature of London.
Proud to be one of the first agencies to be Living Wage accredited, and hoping everyone else joins us soonest. pic.twitter.com/jIQevPeCte
— Dan (@creature_dan) November 2, 2015
Placement salaries and paying a living wage are one of the hot topics in advertising right now, and an issue that evokes strong opinions all round. We've all seen placement teams being taken advantage of by big agencies - paid next to nothing and on occasion happily - so desperate are they to get a foot in the door. Nevertheless such behaviour isn't up to scratch from a multibillion dollar industry, especially when we're giving lip service to principles such as promoting diversity, inclusiveness and searching for the very best talent. When only those who can afford to work at a loss in London apply, we lose out on all the talent who can't - and that damages us as an industry, both our reputation and our creative output.
We caught up with Dan and interviewed him on his opinions - and why Creature of London is determined to make a stand.
Adland:You write that 'Principles are worth paying for'. Why did you decide this principle was important to you as an agency?
Dan: It depends what principle you mean, I suppose. We've always tried to pay people fairly, and not to take advantage of people, whether that's our direct employees, or our service staff - something that's not easy, as a start-up, but we've always stretched ourself as much as was humanly possible. In terms of the Living Wage specifically, and our involvement with the Living Wage Foundation, that came about through a movement to treat Creative Placements more fairly, which was spearheaded by Stu Outhwaite, one of the other founding partners, and Ben Harris, a freelance writer (and old friend of Stu's) who's worked with us on several occasions.
Creative Placements have, for a long time, been a bit of a dirty secret in the industry - officially, it's a way for young folk to get their foot in the door; unofficially, it often became an extremely cost efficient (i.e. cheap) way of getting extra creative brains in the building. Hands up, we were as guilty as any when we first set Creature up. We looked at what the rest of the industry, and just did what they did; an understandable approach, but something we don't feel great about now. As of the start of 2015, all of our creative placements are paid comfortably above Living Wage (£400/week - traditionally, you'd be looking at £250/300, and Living Wage is around £360). Ben and Stu's campaign, which we're pleased to say has been picked up by a number of other agencies, got us talking to the Living Wage Foundation, and we realised that the industry wasn't just being unfair to Creatives. The trickiest bit was making sure that the people we don't employ directly (cleaners, etc.) were also being paid fairly, as that's a key element of the accreditation; but we got there.
Adland: Do you currently run any kind of formal placement scheme for entry level staff (including account managers/ planners/ creative services/ designers/ programmers, etc.), and if so - how do you feel they will benefit from this new policy?
Dan: Currently, our Creative Placement scheme is the only thing in operation - but we're looking to introduce a similar scheme for strategists. As well as paying £400 a week, we also limit the time we'll keep anyone on as a placement to three months, to ensure that we don't end up taking advantage of folk. At the end of the three month period, they'll either be offered a job (if there is one), asked to stay on as freelancers (at a starting rate of £100/day), or we'll help them find their next placement. The intention is that this will both help people to break into the industry who might otherwise have struggled financially, and, once they're here, to ensure that they're not too busy worrying about where their next meal is coming from to do a good job. Breaking into advertising is tough enough without having to work another job to be able to afford to live.
Adland:Do you agree that there is a lack of diversity in the industry - and if so - do you think paying a living wage to all placement staff is a good way to start addressing this?
Dan: Absolutely - and it's definitely a start. The Living Wage is easy - put simply, every agency should be paying everyone who works for them the living wage. Once that's set, though, then the real hard work starts - then we can start to worry about how we get the best people into the industry, regardless of their gender or background. People like Creative Pioneers and The Ideas Foundation (both of whom Creature are very proud to work with) are doing wonderful work to widen advertising's reach - it's in our industry's interest to work with them, to help make us an industry people can be excited about being a part of again. And then, once they're excited, let's make damn sure we pay them properly.
We love to moan about how we're perceived as an industry, and yet there are some very basic things we could be doing to change those perceptions, and we're not doing them.
Adland: What would be your message to agencies who hire new junior staff all the time - only to pay them barely minimum wage (e.g. £250/ week) for up to a year on the promise of a proper job.
Dan: That's pretty straightforward: it's not ok on any level; stop it. I could go on, at length, as this is something that makes us quite angry, but our experience suggests that a simple message is best, so we'll leave it at that.
Adland: How important are culture and principles to growing a successful agency?
Dan: We've been through some tough times, as you'd expect to be the case for an agency that was set up in 2011, and in those times, it's culture and principles that have got us through. We want Creature to be the best place anyone who works here has ever worked: that means paying them appropriately, but, paying them well is a symbol of trying to do the right thing by them at every turn, it's not the be-all and end-all. We don't always get it right, but we've never been afraid of making the tough decisions - whether that be turning down pitches because of rude clients, or saying goodbye to client relationships that spreadsheets told us were profitable, because the reality of working on them told us that they were anything but. Ultimately, our agency thrives or dies based on the people in it; and great people working in a principled culture that they love tends to lead to great things.
Speaking of great things, Creature of London also makes their own honey using a beehive on the roof.