It's no secret that the ever increasing popularity of hit US drama Mad Men has increased visibility for the global advertising industry (as much internally, as publically in my experience). Don Draper's famed exploits, along with his seemingly endless supply of slim line suits and effortless cool, has certainly triggered a much greater sense of recognition of the advertising industry. When I tell people what I do for a living, it's followed by the inevitable question 'so, like Don Draper?'.
Mad Men is fiction and fiction has the wonderful privilege of painting a luminous gloss over a number of truths that those in the profession often choose to brush over. As UK graduates receive their GCSE results and some UK university students head back for their final year, I wanted to draw attention to an important issue - finding the Peggy Olsons': the new wave of energetic, and yet, practical creative thinkers.
Inside the marketing communications world (advertising, PR, etc.) there always has been an over reliance on free internships; at a time when both government and private sector are being called upon to carefully examine their approaches to work placement programs. It's incumbent upon our industry to put aside the champagne and take up the cause of the next generation of young people who are so keen to live the Mad Men dream.
Before I am derided for finger-pointing, let me say that I have been heartened to read that other agencies are actively finding and nurturing future creative talent. Digitally-led ad shop Albion London is partnering with Southampton University to find math, science and engineering students as their business increasingly turns to data to provide campaign insight. And creative industry body D&AD is partnering with a range of private sector organizations as part of their Graduate Academy scheme, to help young grads break in to the industry.
The thing is, Wunderman/Y&R, the agency I work for, is not a small agency. It's a very large global marketing agency, with over 80% of our campaigns being digital. But being big also means taking on big responsibilities. One of those responsibilities is finding the greatest pockets of talent that will provide the imagination and knowledge that our clients require throughout the world. Another is the idea that companies need to train and develop the talent within their industry to ensure that a rigorous standard be established and upheld. This is not done for the sake of hubris; it's done for the survival of an industry.
For prospective employers, the 'practical' in 'practical creative thinking' comes from having garnered real world experience prior to graduating university. In order to do that, we need the cooperation of business, academia and the students. That triumvirate must work together in order to succeed; for each is a viable part of the other and no one leg can go it alone.
We have launched Z Academysm, in the UK to address these concerns and to send a very clear message to both our future talent and our established peers. Z Academy sm is an international, paid, work placement program for students and recent graduates. The scheme is directed at scoping out the next generation of digital marketers based on individual talent, not on insider connections in the industry. Our aim is to level the playing field, enabling students to gain crucial professional experience even if they cannot afford to take unpaid internships.
One of the unheralded values of intern/externships for employers is it allows a person to decide if a profession is their life's pursuit. Those who decide that after industry internship the work is to their liking, they come to a perspective employer with more knowledge - and more enthusiasm.
Theory is no substitute for practice. By doing real work for real clients for a three to six month stint, they gain the skills that employers seek and on occasion even reputation. Programs like Albion's, D&AD's and ours are a talent and skill refinement strategy, not an opportunity to pump-up a CV.
Academia has an essential part to play. Through partnerships with 12 universities globally (including three in London; University of the Arts, University of East London (UEL) and City University), we have established a dialogue and help students understand where their skills can fit within the work place.
Don Draper is fun to watch on television, but the advertising industry needs to focus on Peggy Olson. After all, that's where the future is.