The Era of Professionals

I was following some chatter on the old internet earlier, instigated by Armando Iannucci asking "Has politics actually come to an end? I'm serious. Does it work any more?".

Someone replied "What's Poisoned politics is the professionalisation, people going into politics for life. It's not normal." Someone else added "Politics has replaced government - politicians who know how to play the game, but no idea how to make things actually work".

I think there is some scary truth in that. Governments used to be made up of principled individuals who had a vision for how to make life better, and how to get there. But now it seems like the debate is more important than the subject being debated. Being seen to do the right thing is more important than doing the right thing.

I don't think that it's a problem exclusive to politics.

We live in the era of professionals. You can see it in business, in organisations like the FA and, unfortunately, in advertising and marketing.

When I first came into advertising, people who had studied marketing at college or university were few and far between. Almost every marketing person you met had come up through the organisation, and ended up there because they were good at it. Generally they had a great grasp on the realities of their business.

Now, almost every marketer you meet is some kind of marketing graduate. They are trained in theory, charts, diagrams, powerpoint.

I remember the hilarity when we saw our first Brand Onion - what a crock we all thought. But it was the exception. Now every brand has a brand onion. Or a pyramid, or a doughnut.

When we used to present work, you looked for a visceral reaction in the client. An understanding of why something would work.

Now, you just sense a series of check-boxes being mentally ticked off.

But this isn't just confined to the client side. Oh, no. Agencies used to be the stamping ground of interesting, lively dangerous free-thinkers and do-ers.

Agencies are now largely staffed by advertising's version of corporate drones. Advertising civil servants.

And people who have played it safe are at the top of the business. They have smarmed and politicked their way there, they kept their heads down and made the right moves. They didn't upset people, they didn't take risks, they just greased their way up the pole. They keep the holding company happy.

How someone can be professional in the field of advertising I have no idea. The best advertising comes from people who walk in every morning with no idea how they ended up there, and no idea how they came up with their last good idea. And if you do approach something in some organised, structured process, I guarantee the result will look like exactly that.

We got an email the other day from some young person who said their life's ambition was to be an account manager. Fuck me. Poor bastards.

It's not just confined to the accounts side. Never has the ad industry's creative departments been inhabited by such a professional, organised, uninspiring lot. Who are these people who decided at age 17 that they wanted to be a creative? They scare the living shit out of me. This isn't like being a doctor you know, you can't learn it at college. What life experience and lively thinking has someone to offer who has been training themselves in the business of being a creative for the last five years?

I had one of those pointless internet exchanges with a creative the other day, because they wouldn't accept that there might be another formula to creating good advertising other than the one they were taught on their ad course.

In the end you have bow out of these things and allow them the last word, after all, as someone much more funny than I once said "The problem with arguing with stupid people is that they drag you down to their level, and beat you with experience'.

And to be fair, they weren't stupid, far from it. They were just a product of a world where professionalism, knowing how, doing it right, going by the rules, playing by the book, are encouraged.

We live in the era of professionals in advertising.

But, and I know I've asked this question before.

If people now are so much better trained, clued-up - professional - then how come almost all advertising is absolute crap?

The answer... No matter how hard you try, you can't professionalise your way to great advertising.


  1. To me, being professional means showing up every day and taking pride in the final product. Proofing copy, being prepared for meetings, and so on are opportunities to be mechanically professional. Other than that, I'm making up my professionalism as I go.

    I still have no idea where my ideas come from, though. I was never taught a formula. Just the essential bits of communication. I wanted to be an artist when i was growing up, and draw cartoons for Disney. How I ended up in copy is a confusing story. I don't look back and wonder where I went wrong, mind you. I just marvel at the many little things that had to happen for me to end up here.

  2. I know of such arguments / debates you mention.

    I often remind myself of this quote by Upton Sinclair...."It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!"

    Now finish this sentence - " I believe that...

  3. This bloke/bird you were arguing with. Was he right or were you?

  4. Who's to say, Anonymous?

    Generally I like to keep an open mind.

  5. The biggest compliment I got from someone to date was that I'm a loose cannon.

  6. I agree with Chris S, being a pro means having respect for the people you're working with, turning up on time and taking responsibility for the work you produce.

    I like Vinny Warren's take on it, the world needs more pros:

  7. I felt compelled to respond to this and have had it open for absolute days wondering what to write. So I've decided enough is enough of that and just to go for it. I have been dying to work in a creative capacity for a very long time and as such dip in and out of agency blogs, articles what ever I can get my hands on as I just want to know more and more. I hold the same views as the writer here about "being creative" which is why I have always felt discouraged from pursuing any sort of experience within the industry as i don't feel I have the bravado that seems be needed. Also, the calling for people to stand out which comes up so often. Well I'm not going to stand out straight away not in a brash way, you'l learn that I think a very different way from talking to me but its subtle, asking someone to stand out to me seems like you must compress yourself into something so bite-size, and if every other person s doing that then what you're looking at is a load of people trying to stand out, and now i've lost my train of thought..that happens sometimes. What I do have at the moment is an absolutely sincere love of how people think, what gets them excited, how to provoke a response on a deeper level. I work from visions in my head rather than one unifying idea and I will try lots of different ways to get to the outcome.I am diminished unless engaged in something creative and it is my default postion...BUT it is not something I work towards. It just happens. Even when i dont want it to. So the post gave me hope that maybe somewhere along the line a genuine interest might be a good enough starting point but could they elaborate further as i have read a lot of things about what people shouldnt do, or what is frowned upon but not so very much advice for people who actually want to work very hard at something they love for that love's sake. My current job is as a charity fundraiser for a local charity, where all the tertiary "filler" that comes with working for large corporate companies falls by the wayside to reveal a strong, human attachment to doing what is needed rather than what you have to be seen to be thinking what is needed.
    In that sense I identify very much with what the writer of this post is saying. If they could respond or give me an email address as I would also like to send something I wrote a few years ago on the subject of ideas in general. Sorry for the rambly response

  8. Thanks for your comment Laura.

    You can send stuff to doubles [at] sellsell dot co dot uk.

  9. Chris S and Bentos. I know what you mean - I like Vinny's post too. But when it comes to creatives, I think there is a line that has been crossed where it has become more important to come in on time and do and say the right things and toe the line, than it is to be great at the important stuff.