The Demise Of The Post Room


Post rooms (mail rooms for those of you reading in American) are becoming a relic of another time. I know some big companies, either by necessity or habit, still have them. But in general the growth of email, FTP and all other new ways of communicating and passing documents back and forth means that old-fashioned post rooms are becoming obsolete.

I have sort of a perverted sentimentality for some of the traditional and arcane ways of business. So the idea of losing the post room and the characters it harbours is a bit sad.

But most of all, I worry about what it means for the ad business.

The post room has been a way in to advertising for a generations of people who haven't been able to make it in by the front door. Traditionally it's been a hell of difficult business to get into. And whether we like it or not, sometimes background, education and who you know has made it much easier for some people to get into than others.

That said, generally once you're in it, the ad business is a meritocracy. The shit and charlatans get found out pretty quickly. But getting in is what I'm worried about. Specifically, ways for hard-working, committed, hungry people to get in.

There have always been short-cuts for certain people; your family knows some people in the business, you go through the grad scheme, you go to the right ad course and get introduced to some agency people. But what about the people who don't have that? The people whose families don't mix in the right circles, or who didn't go to university, or who took a circuitous route to realise they wanted to get into the ad-game?

The demise of the post room deprives the business of a way for interesting people, and people from different backgrounds, to elbow their way into the business. And that's real shame I think. Even now, I feel that people in the business aren't as diverse as they might have been twenty or thirty years ago. For my taste, there is already too much of a culture of 'the right path' to take to get into the business.

You end up with cookie-cutter creatives coming in from the same ad courses, with the same books, the same way of thinking, and the same teaching. And you end up with legions of planners and account people who are uniform in their thinking, or their life experience. It's not a recipe for a diverse and excitingly dangerous melting pot of people. And that's what advertising has had at its best. And what it needs for the future.

The business needs mavericks, it needs street-savvy people, street fighters. It needs people who haven't had exactly the same background as the next guy. It needs people who aren't just pleasant, white, middle-class from a comfortable background. It needs people who did ten weird jobs before they started in advertising. It needs people who start out in the business in their thirties, their forties, or later. It needs people with different life experiences. The business needs to realise this quick, before it gets too stale.

Take creatives, for example. I've always been of the mind that if you want it bad enough, you'll prise your way in. You'll work as long or as hard as it takes to make it happen. And that is true. Kind of. It's true for a lot of talented people I know. People work two jobs so they can work on their book, and do the slog that it takes to get an opportunity in a creative department. But as the cost of living rises, especially in London, we have to ask ourselves, is getting into the business within reach for people who don't come from reasonably well-off backgrounds, or who don't have the education to follow the traditional path in?

That's part of the reason that I'm not a fan of placements, and why we don't do them here at Sell! Sell!. To do a full-time placement (ie, you're in an agency, not being paid), you have to have some kind of other money to keep you afloat. Yes, you can surf the sofas of friends, but that hospitality runs out at some point.

That system certainly favours people who's savings or family money can keep them running. But people who have to work to keep themselves afloat can only do that so long. That can't be a good thing if we want a job in advertising to be purely on merit. And if we want to make it attainable for as broad a range of people as possible.

If we want advertising to be full of talented interesting, diverse people from different backgrounds, the demise of the post room makes it that bit harder. The advertising business needs to solve this problem.

5 comments:

  1. I've been in the business a long time, and it does seem like there are less interesting people in advertising now. I used to like that you could be in a room with people of all different ages and backgrounds. And some people who you didn't know what they were going to say next.

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  2. Well put.

    As someone who half stumbled, half hustled my way in from another career path all together, I've banged on about this myself for ages now. Advertising is astonishingly conformist when it comes to recruitment - the same kinds of people doing the same kinds of work everywhere you go.

    Many agencies now seem to see themselves as "creative cultures" rather than businesses, so the pressure to fit in - to dress, act, and sound like those agencies, as well create "their kind of work"
    is rife.

    Oh, and the prevalence of HR doesn't help either, since people end up being measured by what they've done rather than what they're capable of. So a lot of potential goes to waste.

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  3. A brilliant post.

    I can see why conformity would affect the advertising industry more than most, although I fear it is abundant in many other sectors too, even the art world.

    And if ad agencies are not so good at generating interesting and creative ideas today because of the lack of diversity of people within them, is it any wonder brands turn to UGC?

    Maybe it is via UGC, that those that would have jobs in post rooms can show their talent. I am not advocating UGC but perhaps this is why.

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  4. Absolutely agree. You should check out what the non-profit Livity (http://livity.co.uk) is trying to do in creating a mentoring program that will provide digital opportunities and eventually placements small group of disadvantaged youth.

    "In order to give the young people chosen for the course a sense of purpose and ownership of the 6 week course, we have designed the workshops so that the 12 apprentices form a pop-up agency.

    The agency will have to name itself, create a basic brand identity and set up a blogspot as it's client facing portal. It will also receive a major brief from a client that it has to respond to. This brief is fully live, so the they will not only be creating a whole digital campaign for it, but actioning it also. This means campaign creative and development, implementation and reporting.

    This brief will be campaign the agency will present to the Dragon's Den on Friday 15th July. This will include presenting the brief, the solutions and strategy created to answer the brief, how it was implemented and the analytics and results."

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  5. Interesting thought Jim. Thing is, UGC seems normally to just be a money saving scheme on the part of some clients, who also hope to get some free PR out of it too. Or an ill-conceived attempt at creating the the so-called two-way conversation that some gullible marketers have been hoodwinked into believing is the way forward for advertising.

    What is true is that there are hundreds of people out there who wanted to get a job in advertising, but failed, who are willing to participate in these free-pitching crowd sourcing schemes as a way to get themselves in. I don't necessarily think that these are the same kind of people who are not not given a path in by the post room.

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