Spooner on…creatives at risk of burn-out, my arse!

spooner new“Wake-up call as burnt-out creatives threaten exodus” trumpets the headline to an illuminating, recent article in Decision Marketing – the premier source for the latest news in the world of tightly-focused marketing interactions, or whatever we are calling it this week.

Well slap me on the arse and call me Betty!

Surely the detailed, qualitative survey from those lovely people at TBWA, which this article references will elicit a great, sugary tidal wave of empathy from all of the talented and roistering, yet cowed and exhausted creative people (employees 1) here at the glamorous, downtown offices of Spoon Creative Ltd?

Surely, we feel the same?

Quite the reverse!

We’re sick of your whining!

We have never read such a catalogue of self-pitying, self-serving, over-entitled selfishness in all our puff!

Every creative person, however lowly or exalted their position, is already immensely privileged; Privileged to use their talents to earn a living for a start (in a way that most people without a true vocation only dream of); Privileged to be able to generate ideas (albeit in the service of late-stage, global capitalism); Privileged to be able to, frankly, muck about and have a laugh while coming up with ludicrous ways to sell sausages, or electric vehicles, or eyeliner, or multi-asset funds; Privileged to get to scribble and fiddle with words and images all day every day; Privileged to be, generally, respected for their scribbling and fiddling; Privileged to be able to ‘go for lunch’ or indeed, even, to an agreeable public house (those were the days!); Privileged by a preposterous system of mutual-aggrandisement which celebrates their silly ideas at awards ceremonies, junkets, workshops and ‘conferences where hors d’oeuvres and glasses of Pinot Grigio rain down like Halifax hail.

And, above all, privileged, at even the lowliest levels, to earn a salary at least a third greater than the average national wage; in fact, creative people working in the marketing industry are privileged in a way that cleaners, cooks, train drivers, teachers, nurses, factory workers, call-centre operatives, customer-service people and most of our relatives are not and never have been.

Those questioned complain that their needs, and aspirations are disregarded by their employers. They are unfulfilled. They require greater validation. They are less troubled by their employer’s ‘purpose’ than they are by their employer’s failure to acknowledge their needs and aspirations. They feel their work-life balance is all askew. They are suffering. They might decide to leave and start a micro-brewery or retrain as a couturier.

Perhaps they should look around their agencies and check their privilege.

I have known approximately 1,267 account executives in my long and illustrious career. Not one of them was not bullied, harassed, over-worked and sleepless in the service of agency culture. And as they rise through the ranks (unless they decide to do something less appalling) the pressure of being the person who mediates between up-themselves creatives and difficult, demanding clients only becomes greater, the further up the greasy pole that they manage to squirm.

What about everyone in the studio, whether designers, typographers (remember them?), artworkers, videographers, coders, developers or re-touchers? They toil in the service of the aforementioned, up-themselves creatives desperately applying a gloss of professionalism to bombastic and wrong-headed notions, that, frankly they could all do better than – lacking as they do the autonomy that comes with ‘true creativity’, merely exercising their craft to the best of their ability as circumstances allow – and often in the service of something so stupid as to be all-but-unpresentable without the application of their skills. Oh, and they get in to the agency on time and stay until the job is done, however far from the agency their meagre salaries allow them to live, sustained by patronising pizza and warm beer.

And, of course, those fortunate to sit at the boardroom table, nursing their grievances and their tiny pots of equity, sleep no more easily and are no more fulfilled, knowing as they do, that the agency is only ever one telephone call or email away from either triumph or disaster.

Work-life balance indeed.

When, in another life, I was the grandly titled Executive Creative Director of an agency with creative departments in London, Cheltenham and Edinburgh and I was necessarily in charge of a lot of pitches. I had one simple rule for any creative pitch that was my responsibility: That the creative work should be ready to present at five o’clock the night before the pitch presentation.

Once this was known, it was astonishing to find how easily this simple rule could be obeyed. As we all know, work expands to fill the time available. Constrict that time and the work still gets done – but everyone has a decent night’s sleep and is ready to sparkle on the big day. I’m not claiming that we always succeeded in obeying this rule but I am certain that the process of accommodating, last-minute amends from brainy planners or anxious CSDs was a lot less stressful.

On most occasions when creative people are forced to work longer than usual hours, it is the result of all the fannying around that they were personally responsible for at the front end of the project. Creative people can be lazy and precious and need some encouragement in order to work faster and more efficiently in the service of that big, pitch-winning idea.

Though, personally, I am quite a big fan of the small idea.

And, of course, when the business is won and the champagne is being sloshed about, it is often illuminating how often the CEO has to be reminded of the contribution made by account management, the studio and the broader agency to the success of the enterprise.

Creative people have always been cossetted, flattered and lionized because they do the one thing that other people in the business do not do – come up with creative ideas. That is their greatest curse and their greatest blessing.

They should shut up and get on with it.

Jonathan Spooner is consulting creative director at Spoon Creative

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