If the industry wants creativity to be valued, it needs to start valuing its junior creatives

MadiganIn this guest post Dee Madigan argues the industry needs to stop using free labour from young people to tackle its diversity issues.

I was interviewing applicants for a junior art director position recently. Many of the applicants had been working in ad agencies for free. Some of them for up to a year. Working for free. For a year.

Some got paid a little if a piece of work went through. Most didn’t. Either way this is exploitation, pure and simple.

When I ask people in agencies why this still happens the response has been ‘Well it’s just the way things are done’. Yeah well so was slavery. And that didn’t make it ok either.

Or ‘It shows how keen they are’. No it doesn’t. It shows they are keen and have a life that makes working for free possible. There are plenty of young people keen to get in the industry who simply cannot afford to work for free. This industry is already overrepresented by the middle-class, whose sons and daughters can probably live at home, off their parents, while doing work for free. And we wonder why our advertising often looks so bland. Well that’s what happens when the people creating it all come from one pretty homogenous group.

It isn’t right to exploit young people. It’s not right for them, and it’s not right for our industry.

Yes, juniors require a bit of work, but so what. Surely we owe that to those coming up. And while they may not always crack the brief they bring fresh ideas.

Paying your juniors is good for your agency because it means you have a better chance of finding that kid who might be awesome but simply can’t afford to work for free because they have to pay rent.

Or, you get staff who can perform better because they are not holding down extra jobs on the side.

We get cross when clients don’t value creative work but then look the other way when our own industry doesn’t.

Yes it can be hard to know with juniors which ones may and may not have talent before hiring them so if you are going to get them to trial for free (and I don’t) the at least put a limit on it. After a few weeks you have a pretty good idea

whether someone has talent or not. If they don’t, let them go, if they do, pay them at least a liveable wage.

There is little point telling the job seekers they have the right to ask for the liveable wage. They are not in a position of power and are understandably desperate to break into the industry. It’s up to the ad agencies to do the right things and pay them. And up to the industry to name and shame those who don’t.

  • Dee Madigan is executive creative director of Campaign Edge

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