Placement poverty

Credit: Caroline/FLICKR
Credit: Caroline/FLICKR

Placement teams can live below the minimum wage and work for long hours without real job prospects. In a short dialogue, Ben Harris and Stu Outhwaite explain why this is no laughing matter.

Picture the scene. Two advertising sorts are talking at one of those advertising things.

GAZ    So how’s…?
BAZ    Things?
GAZ    Yeah.
BAZ    Good.
GAZ    Good.
BAZ    Wanted to talk to you, actually.
GAZ    New business?
BAZ    No.
GAZ    Vanity project?
BAZ    Not really.
GAZ    Ah, I’m pretty busy…
BAZ    You can call it a vanity project if you want?
GAZ    Shoot.
BAZ    Placement teams.
GAZ    Don’t need any more. Got a few in at the moment. One guy stares at you for too long and I think another one is nicking the aloe vera toilet paper.
BAZ    Mind me asking how much you pay them?
GAZ    We pay pretty well, actually. They get £250, a free run at the stationery cupboard and, if they’re lucky, a pint on Friday. Industry standard, right?
BAZ    Seems so. But I was thinking the other day, though – if they are on £250 and were doing eight hours a day, five days a week, they’d be earning less than minimum wage.
GAZ    Really?
BAZ    Yep. Is that a bit… fucking terrible?
GAZ    I suppose that’s one way of looking at it.
BAZ    And do yours do eight hours a day, five days a week?
GAZ   They might do a bit more than that. Now and again. But you’re supposed to treat them badly, aren’t you? We all went through it. The struggle, the battle, placement poverty and all that.
BAZ    Yeah, but maybe the struggle should be about doing well and trying to get a job, not how you’re going to feed yourself.
GAZ    We’ve got a cereal cupboard.
BAZ    But we’ve had loads of placements in who’ve also had to have part-time jobs. Either that or they’re getting themselves into more debt than they’re already in. Then there are the ones who just can’t afford to do placements in the first place.
GAZ    Chill your boots, Gandhi. You after a white Pencil or what?
BAZ    It just seems loads of young people can’t even try to get a job in advertising, not because of talent but because they can’t afford it. Bit rubbish, isn’t it? Particularly if we want the industry to be slightly less middle class and white.
GAZ    True. And wanting the industry to be less middle class and white is very trendy nowadays. So what we saying? £260?
BAZ    We’re a multibillion-pound industry. We probably pay the guy who sorts the fruit and flowers more.
GAZ    Jesus. How much then?
BAZ    How about the living wage?
GAZ    You’ve lost me again.
BAZ    It’s like a sort of independent recommended wage thing, you know, based on a fair, liveable amount of money. Loads of companies are signing up to it, apparently.
GAZ    A fair, liveable amount of money? That’s quite a radical proposition, even for us guys.
BAZ    In London, it’s £9.15 an hour. Works out at £366 a week. Just over £19,000 a year.
GAZ    Piss off. There’s a recession on, you know?
BAZ    How much did you spend on sending your lot to Cannes last year?
GAZ    Cannes is essential. They do talks about coding.
BAZ    Turns out some agencies already pay more than the living wage, but the vast majority of us don’t.
GAZ    Why would we, if no-one is forcing us to?
BAZ    Because it’s sort of… mean? Inhumane? Shit?
GAZ    And I guess you’re going to tell me it’s also inhumane to keep them on for months, even if there’s no job going?
BAZ    How long have you dragged your last pair out for?
GAZ    Nearly a year.
BAZ    And you didn’t hire them?
GAZ    Didn’t have the budget.
BAZ    Why did you keep them on?
GAZ    Have you seen how many sizes banner ads come in nowadays?
BAZ    So, essentially, they were sort of being treated like a junior team, without any of the benefits or safety?
GAZ    Yeah, billed as one too.
BAZ    So maybe we should recognise when they’re working more like a freelance team and pay them accordingly.
GAZ    What? Treat them like normal people?
BAZ    I know. It’s a pretty big idea.
GAZ    Hey, we could do a case study about it. Enter it for something?

The way most of us treat placements is beyond a joke. It needs to change. A very small handful of agencies have woken up to this, and we think everyone else should too. We would like to find a way of making the living wage the very least all IPA agencies pay their placement teams. And set a three-month limit on placements, with a £100-a-day freelance rate kicking in for every day after that.

It seems like a no-brainer and, so far, everyone we’ve spoken to agrees. Do you?

All thoughts, opinions and comments welcome. Visit to vote in the online poll.

Ben Harris is a freelance writer and Stu Outhwaite is a creative partner at Creature


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