Selfish and short-sighted

By Christian Barnett

I’ve worked with some amazing people in my career, some real geniuses; people who make the advertising industry what it is.

But the industry has got selfish and myopic. In a dash for profits, earn outs and bonuses; the industry has not replenished its stocks. With little investment in young talent for the future, there is no sustainable future. The best talent goes elsewhere.

Of course there are a few exceptions. Jon Steel, who reinvigorated the WPP Fellowship, is one. He knows he may not see all his fellows in WPP operating companies two years after they have come off the scheme but that isn’t the point. He’s giving back. We all should.

I consciously decided this when I was at Y&RNY, the day I saw a WPP fellow (pre-Jon this was), no doubt smarter than the mentor they were assigned to, being relegated to the bottom of a client meeting agenda to do a trends presentation, with no real likelihood of ever getting on. I vowed I would never do that. Never. It was a total waste of talent and massively demotivating as well. I checked.

We all need to give back. For every world-class practitioner who helped me when I was green, it’s how I say ‘thank you’.

It’s also great business. When I was a mentor for the WPP Fellowship, I calculated that for each fellow I mentored, with three months moderate investment, I would get a good nine months back. Now’s that’s a positive ROI. I built a department off the back of it, and have followed that approach since starting my own consultancy and co-founding Sword & Stone.

We have been so lucky to find James Lees and Flo Sayers, both of whom have been with me since interning four and three years ago respectively. We’ve built an amazing little business by hiring smart interns, mainly because I couldn’t afford anyone other than interns, and investing in them.

So it’s wonderful to see Group Think, a community dedicated to developing the next generation of strategists, and co-founded by James, celebrating its one year anniversary. After one year Group Think has 300 members and have held over 40 events, for free. I applaud them wholeheartedly. It’s a fabulous effort.

But it’s also really sad that they have been so successful. It tells us something about our own. The industry bodies who should be representing the next generation of strategists, have clearly missed something here, and the ad agencies are too busy thinking about utilization rates and covering their own backs to concern themselves with something as important as hiring and training the next generation of strategic stars.

Sword & Stone is a small and growing agency but we’ve already left a legacy that makes me feel happy and fulfilled. And if we can do it, why can’t the bigger agencies too?

If you want to have a chat about how you, or your organisation, can make a difference to the next generation of strategists, get in touch and between us we should be able to help you.

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