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October 8, 2003
Fresh Talent: The Importance of Keeping Your Agency Eternally Young

I truly believe that advertising thrives on the infusion of fresh blood into agencies. I love the drive, the relentlessness and the insatiable enthusiasm of young creatives. To them, there's always a better, bolder, fresher, more ingenious answer. They're the ones who will keep you, and your agency, eternally young.

Because of this, I believe in hiring as many juniors as I can because to me, youth is intoxicating. Without fresh, creative talent and new thinking, advertising will grow stale and cliche.

Let's face it. We all at some point or another reminisce about our childhood when our biggest stress was an early bedtime and when we didn't even need an alarm to rise and seize the day. Everything was an opportunity, anything was possible, and our backyard was as fascinating a place as any.

In advertising, we've all been advised, especially as creatives, to reach back to this mentality, this refreshing naiveté, this inner child. The problem is we seldom do. That is until some young chap who looks like he should be skateboarding or playing Nintendo with your 12 year-old son walks into your office with one of the most brilliant, refreshing pieces of advertising you've seen in quite some time. This is reason #1 for hiring young creatives: They are not yet cynical, jaded or afraid of anything. And often, they'll surprise the hell out of you.

Reason #2: I believe young creatives wake up the rest of your creative department. Many young teams are more willing to take on the smaller, less sexy creative assignments that have been passed up by the older teams. They thrive and prosper on the unwanted assignments, and make us realize that there are new solutions to the age-old problems we face day in and day out. This forces the older folks to then up their game and strive to stay fresh-God forbid the juniors have better work or better assignments!

Reason #3: Kids are tireless. They're truly hungry and don't require as much sleep. If you give them an opportunity, a chance to do a bona fide, big brand assignment, they aren't going home, and many times won't bathe, until they nail it. They aren't going to bitch (too loudly) if their idea isn't sold. Better yet, they're going to try harder the next go round.

Every junior team I've ever hired knows the story of when I first starting working at Leo Burnett in London. There was nothing I wanted more as a beginner than to sell a kick-ass ad. And in my first year there, that's exactly what I didn't do. Each assignment I did to the best of my ability, each night I was at the office long after everyone else was gone, and each time I presented my work, it was very well-received, but never picked to go forward. At the end of that year, I was called into my creative director's office for my review. We discussed my work and the unfortunate truth that none of it had sold. The next words I expected to hear were, "Thank you very much for your efforts, Mark, but you are fired." Much to my surprise, however, my creative director apologized to me. He apologized for not being able to sell my work. He told me that the kind of work I was doing was the kind that the rest of the agency should be doing, and that I should keep doing it. And if that wasn't enough, on my way out, he doubled my salary.

Reason #4: Agencies must invest in their future. We need the rookies. Overlooking young talent is like a football team overlooking the draft. If you miss out on the up-and-comers, you're missing out on the future. We must hire, and even more importantly, cultivate junior talent in order to infuse the industry with the next generation of great ad makers. We'll never find the next Alex Bogusky if we don't do so. We'll never completely break out of the current industry mold if we don't tap into those younger than us. Someone someday will be better than Michael Jordan on the basketball court. Better than Beckham on the football field.

The same holds true for us ad folks. If we, as an industry, believe in cultivating young talent, in giving our rookies a shot at more than just a house ad, and in providing the mentorship and the leadership that these hungry youngsters need, then we will continue to be surprised, to be challenged, to be inspired. The best is yet to come, even in the game of advertising.

Reason #5: Coaching pays well. While a child has talent and heart, a good creative director has wisdom. This wisdom will help build the next generation of creatives and lead them in the right direction. Creatives' jobs should evolve into a coaching role. As older creatives may be frustrated with fewer of their own great ads or fresh ideas, there is still a place for them as a coach. And the better young creatives are coached, the better coaches they'll be. Never be threatened by young creatives because at the end of the day, ad veterans still have more wisdom and maybe even more trophies than them. At the end of the day, if you're a good mentor, there will always be a place for you in an agency, and your agency's young creatives will only be better thanks to you.

An insatiable appetite for making great ads is the key ingredient for making a great creative. Of course, I know that the young aren't the only ones with this desire, but I believe that without these pups yipping at our heels, we will all get a little too comfortable with being a "grown up" in this business.

It's not about young versus old. Instead I see the beneficial impact a young team can have on the larger creative department and even the agency. When interaction between the old and the new--those not yet jaded or cynical--is encouraged, an agency's reel only improves. Within the next generation of talent, we will find tomorrow's stars, who will fuel commerce and culture into the future. They're the ones who will keep creatives and agencies eternally young.

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Mark Tutssel is one reason Leo Burnett enjoys a reputation for excellent creative worldwide. vice chairman, deputy chief creative officer, Mark's 17-year career at Burnett's London office resulted in countless awards, including the big daddy, the Cannes Grand Prix, for Mercedes Benz of course. 

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