So this is a massive generalisation. But bear with me.
On the whole, I respect media people more than I do creative agency people. Have lunch with somebody from a media agency, and while you might be exposed to the occasional dose of ego, you’ll usually get a straightforward conversation. Do the same thing with somebody from a creative agency and the experience is often different. It may well be a more entertaining lunch, but the bullshit levels will be way higher.
As a journo, I work on the assumption that if somebody categorically denies a story to me, in the absence of any further evidence, that’s enough to kill the story. But if they turn out to have lied to me, then their denial is no good next time round. At senior levels, that happens relatively rarely. Obfuscation, yes. But provable lying, a little less so.
But… of the four agency CEOs whose word I no longer trust, every single one of them is from a creative agency.
The question is one of nature versus nurture. Does working in adland turn you into a bullshitter because everybody else is one? Or does that world attract natural-born bullshitters?
I suspect it’s the former. If your colleagues behave this way, then you get carried along too.
Good creative agencies always need an element of showbiz to them. They stop feeling like the real world.
To get ahead, particularly if you’re not the best of the best, you have to do your own PR. Even very average creatives act like they’re far better than they are. Because it’s so widespread, they even, I suspect, start to believe it themselves. Everyday morality may seem a little distant.
Sex and drugs are available a lot more than out in the real world.
I suspect many people would know which Sydney agency I’m thinking of when I mention the coke dealer on staff.
But if I were to talk about a culture of preying on the interns, I bet that doesn’t narrow it down that much.
In recent days, I’ve become an obsessive reader of a new blog called The Creative Confessional. It features anonymous confessions from creatives around the world.
There are those who use their power to get sex:
“I once had a junior chick do me a blow job to grant her a job in my agency.”
“I told a girl that she’d be in a commercial if she showed me her tits.”
“I want to do this co-worker of mine, and she has low self-esteem. I’ve been purposely lowering her self-esteem so she puts out easier.”
“I supported, helped sell, and executed a brutally poor intern idea just to expedite my voyage into her pants.”
There are those who take others’ ideas:
“I just stole a great, BIG idea from my junior team, changed it a little, and now it’s MY great, big idea. And I’ll probably win a few Lions for it too. Sucks to be a junior.”
“Took credit for a grand prix Lion I had nothing to do with.”
And those who are just overpaid:
“I am a CD and partner making almost $100k a year at a boutique shop. I’m 23 and have no idea what I’m doing.”
“Least creative and most paid… why? Because I’ve worked there the longest.”
“I summarize Malcolm Gladwell articles. I repeat buzzwords like ‘transmedia’ and ‘gamify’. And I have a proper English accent. Altogether, this nets me close to half-a-million dollars. It’s quite brilliant.”
The media confessions wouldn’t be half as dramatic.
And that is the problem. Ad people are more fun.
Tim Burrowes is the editor-in-chief of Encore and Mumbrella.