The industry has a bright future — if it can hang on to talent

Agencies are at risk of losing the best and brightest of the next generation.

Judging for the Campaign US BIG Awards took place virtually last week, and it was a pleasant reminder that the industry is filled with bright, insightful talent that’s eager to participate, learn, grow and be heard. 

When we launched the BIGs in the U.S. as an extension of Campaign’s flagship creative awards program in the U.K., we thought long and hard about why the industry needed another creative awards show in the region. And we decided that between Cannes, the Effies, the Clios and the like, it really didn’t. 

However, we could add value by changing the narrative. So we invited an emerging group of diverse jurors to tell us what they think is this past year’s best work. After all, they’re the future of this industry, so their opinions are paramount.  

It was not only the first time we’d brought the BIGs to the U.S., but also our first endeavor to include up-and-coming talent in an awards program. I’ll be honest, I had my hesitations about how it would all come together — from recruiting the right group of people (it’s difficult for journalists to make connections beyond the executive level) to getting them engaged, able and willing to participate. 

But we pulled it off. Over the course of three days, we gathered nine groups of jurors with three to five years of industry experience to discuss, debate, geek out and delight over a crop of stellar entries. The jurors were not simply engaged, but enthusiastic. Their insights were uniquely shaped by their generational views and experiences, and it showed. 

The shortlist for the BIG Awards will drop tomorrow, so I won’t spoil the surprise. But there were a handful of entries that seemed shiny on the surface that a group of more seasoned executives may have let slide through that did not pass the younger generation’s sniff test. Gen Z is all about authenticity, and they can see through half-hearted attempts to connect with them or use emerging tech for a purpose from a mile away. 

What really stood out to me spending time with the jurors and listening to them talk about the work is their passion — not just for what they do, but also for what they care about. We received tons of feedback thanking us for the opportunity, with notes describing the experience as “inspiring,” “valuable” and “incredible.” Many told us they don’t often feel heard the way they did through this process.

Naturally, this made me feel warm and fuzzy inside. But juxtaposed against an ongoing talent crunch and rampant cases of burnout across ad agencies, I also felt worried for these rising stars as well as the companies they work for. 

Many of these jurors are still on their first or second job. They still have that glimmer in their eyes about working in advertising for big-name firms. Agencies are drawing in this talent because they still have the veneer of being fun, exciting, fast-paced places to work. But peel back the shiny layer, and they are often guilty of hiring young talent and burning them out quickly, an issue that’s only been exacerbated by the pandemic and thousands of layoffs. 

Take a quick scroll through Fishbowl and you’ll immediately see what I’m talking about. Here’s just a selection of posts I came across today:

I’m completely burnt out from work and I’m considering taking a break until the end of the year or so. The challenge I’m having is this deep rooted anxiety of having a "gap" on my resume. Is that something that’s still a red flag to hiring managers or am I overthinking it? If you’ve done this, I’d be so curious to hear your thoughts! I know I’m in a privileged position to be able to consider this, I’ve found this bowl to be so supportive and helpful so any thoughts are welcome.

— Account Director

Do you also hate "sandwich feedback" (praise, criticism, praise)? I know it's part of western culture. But clear and direct feedback should be enough. Working 12 hours a day, no one should have to waste time on this.

— Creative

Today I finally transitioned from "I’m super invested in advertising" to "it’s just a job."

— Art director

About to get an offer to move to a health agency. Anyone else make that move? How was it? I’ve lost major interest in the hustle glorified at traditional agencies, and have a fam so need better WLB. Realizing regular agencies aren’t made to work around family life…more like the other way around. Even when setting boundaries you get comments and pressure…working til midnight every night to "make up" for having to log off between 6 and 9 every night isn’t a good balance for me.

— Creative director

Been in pharma for 3 years now & love(d) it. Recently switched to agency life… Started a new role as an SPM and although the check is beautiful, it is by far the most stressed I’ve ever been. There has been little to no training process, & I’m constantly left on my own. I walked into chaos and am under a microscope expected to fix things that are beyond my control w/ very little support from my Supe. This role has me rethinking my career... is it too soon to look for a new job?

— Project manager

Does agency life ever get less stressful? I feel like I'm losing years off my life with my daily workload. I feel crazy and haven't been getting enough sleep or eating because there's just so much to do in a day. It's been 9 months and idk if I just can't handle it or if I'm just constantly bad at time management or what. I hear in-house is more stable but I feel like I need more all-around agency experience before transitioning.

— Assistant account executive

People are reevaluating their lives and how they want to spend their time after COVID, and work is a huge part of that. Young, creative talent have tons of opportunities to monetize their skills by doing what they love. Agencies no longer have a monopoly over fun, sexy and cool creative work. And sure enough, people start to recognize that and drop out of the industry at the mid-level, especially people of color. 

Last week, I watched a small subset of this budding group of creative professionals light up as they discussed the work, with a clear passion for the industry and what it does. 

I hope that agencies recognize what they have, because I’d hate to see that fire burn out.  


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