Media: The joys of being a creative - and the woes

Advertising attracts many with its promise of fame and wealth, but the reality is harsher, says Richard Cook

When the great and good of the film world make their annual pilgrimage to the Oscars ceremony in Los Angeles, they do so with fond hope and earnest expectations. Ditto those members of the advertising fraternity who make their way to any of that industry's numerous glittering awards evenings. Both sit through speeches and a marathon of musical entertainment: both catch up with their peers; both do a little glad-handing.

The similarity stops there. The former tend not to round off their evening by presenting the best film Oscar to a couple of producers just filling in at the studio for experience and pounds 50 a week expenses. But that, by contrast, is just what happened at one of last year's most prestigious advertising awards, the Campaign Poster Awards. The winning poster, by common consent a champion out of the very top drawer, was devised by copywriter Pete Cain and art directed by his partner Louis Bogue, both of whom were volunteers, working at the time on expenses-only placement at ad agency M&C Saatchi.

It's a powerful indication of one of the attractions of advertising as a career. Most industries pay at least lip service to the idea of meritocracy, but few can really deliver in quite such spectacular fashion. And few offer the same mixture of enviable working conditions and attractive salary that the successful adman can command.

A copywriter three or four years into employment at one of the top agencies, for example, might easily be earning pounds 50,000 a year. If their work wins an award that might earn them a bonus of anything up to pounds 10,000. And the offices in which they work are frequently extravagant advertisements for the creative career.

And that's not all. What adland staff can also expect are those little extras that make office life worth living. They might get corporate croissants in the morning, while most of them can enjoy a session down the subsidised gym at lunchtime before wriggling into their replica footie kit after work to take on their peers at a gentle five-a-side kick around. Naturally the kit and pitch will be provided by a beneficent employer. And afterwards they can repair to the company's bar to embrocate the stresses of the working day, at suitably subsidised prices.

"Pay and conditions are good but the real buzz comes from hearing people talk about your work," says Saatchi and Saatchi copywriter Andrew Fisher. "I've done a campaign for Jammie Dodgers recently and to hear kids picking up on that in the playgrounds is an unbelievable feeling.'

And if it all sounds too good to be true, that's because it is. There is at least one considerable obstacle separating would-be advertising creatives from their own private vision of workplace nirvana. It's called the placement system.

The placement system is how almost all advertising creatives get their first job. It's simply the process by which creative teams are offered work experience by the leading agencies. Andrew Fisher and his partner Dave Askwith administer the scheme at Saatchi's, taking on a maximum of two teams at any time for a maximum of three months. The teams will work long hours, tackle anything that's thrown their way and pick up the less than princely sum of pounds 75 a week for the first month, rising to pounds 100 if they are kept on for a second month and pounds 150 a week in the third.

There's no guarantee that this will lead to a job, indeed it probably won't, but it provides the raw material for a book that might persuade another agency to take them on. In fact, Saatchi's has just hired a creative team from placement, but more than 30 teams have passed through the doors since that last happened.

"In fact the system is a bit more structured and pleasant than it was in the past," points out Fisher, "and while teams do work hard, at least they are doing something they enjoy. I see people all the time and I enjoy helping young teams come into the industry but they have to realise that it's extremely competitive. You have to be part of a team for starters and usually you also have to have completed a postgraduate course like the one at Watford. So you might easily be in your mid-twenties before you even start taking up placements. It can be a huge financial commitment."

It can also be more taxing at some agencies than others. Saatchi's take an unusually enlightened view of the placement process. Some agencies offer as little as pounds 35 a week and hang on to staff at that reduced rate for months. There are all sorts of horror stories. One team of graduates from the Watford College training course worked an 18-month placement, was listed twice in the single most prestigious UK advertising awards, the Design & Art Directors, and still didn't get a job at the end of it.

But then placements are nowadays just the final hurdle of what has to be a long-term campaign to break into the industry - a quest that can take even the most talented years, cost thousands of pounds and which as a consequence increasingly attracts only the most hardened and dedicated of creative types.

"We still get people who really want to get into advertising because they think it's all about big money and driving around in a Porsche," points out Tony Cullingham, course director of the Watford College's talent pipeline copywriter and art direction course. "But far fewer. Most students realise that it's just not like that anymore. People nowadays have to be really dedicated to break into advertising because they are likely to have run up debt of up to pounds 15,000. But prospects are now looking up. Of the 13 teams who completed our course here last year, 11 now have jobs."

Cullingham receives almost 700 inquiries for the 30 places on offer for his one-year course and subjects them to a copywriting test to select the 80 or so people he then invites to day-long interviews. They have to answer questions such as Why? or to draw a picture which illustrates the word irony. And that's just the first step of a gruelling slog to advertising's promised land.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Homeless Veterans charity auction: Cook with Angela Hartnett and Neil Borthwick at Merchants Tavern
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Sport
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
News
Stacey Dooley was the only woman to be nominated in last month’s Grierson awards
mediaClare Balding and Davina McCall among those overlooked for Grierson awards
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Voices
Joseph Kynaston Reeves arguing with Russell Brand outside the RBS’s London offices on Friday
voicesDJ Taylor: The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a worker's rant to Russell Brand
News
Twitchers see things differently, depending on their gender
scienceNew study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
News
Xander van der Burgt, at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
scienceA Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

Ashdown Group: Analyst Programmer (Filemaker Pro/ SQL) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days, pension, private medical : Ashdown Group: A highly...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst - Chessington

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Service Desk Analyst - Chessington, Surrey...

Charter Selection: Graphic Designer, Guildford

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Charter Selection: This renowned and well establish...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick