Rethinking creative talent: why traditional career paths don't cut it anymore
In terms of recruitment, Plan A has always been about university students, internships and graduate schemes. But, says VJ Anand, ECD EMEA & Global Creative Operations at VaynerMedia, Plan A isn't working so it's time to nurture the next generation of creative talent.
Should top creative talent come from a traditional career path? Studying the arts at university? High flying internships? Graduates of esteemed ad agencies?
I really hope not. Otherwise we’d all be in big trouble. As a kid, I didn't have the privilege of any of these things. I come from a small, humble town in Malaysia. I am very grateful for my past, and I’ve worked with amazing talent and clients, but the road to getting to where I am now was one of determination, luck and people willing to give me a chance.
I’m not here to tell you that anyone who works hard enough can break down any door because, sadly, that’s not the case.
Now, this isn’t one of those School of Hard Knocks stories. I’m not here to tell you that anyone who works hard enough can break down any door because, sadly, that’s not the case in our industry. We all know the historically exclusive nature of advertising.
But it can change and, indeed, is changing.
Above: Studying hard doesn't always mean the door to an advertising career can be broken down.
I’m exceptionally grateful that I’ve found a home in this industry that fundamentally believes in that. Our model at VaynerMedia, one that isn’t a secret, has been the same since our inception, is that effective, compelling work for today’s modern society relies on taking cues from social platforms and removing creative subjectivity.
It isn’t just a fancy selling point for us. It’s at the core of everything we do. In fact, we have job roles for creatives that you won’t find anywhere else to prove it. It’s the difference between agencies surviving and dying out.
Why? Well, let’s break it down. A traditional education and route to becoming a creative director meant that, by the time you got to the top, you’d be a master of the arts. You'd be a creative genius able to pull inspiration from anything to create beautiful, inspiring work because of your wealth of knowledge and experience.
It is simply impossible for a single person (or team) - no matter how creative - to compete with the feedback, insights and art direction of millions.
But, in this century, as we have moved away from traditional means of consuming information to the age of social media, it is simply impossible for a single person (or team) - no matter how creative - to compete with the feedback, insights and art direction of millions. Those millions are on social platforms, and they are engaging with culture, brands and each other.
They create the conversations and moments to be part of, as opposed to a bygone era when ad execs did that job for them. It happens at breakneck speed and is much faster than any traditional form of campaign planning. It is insane to think that the same kind of guidance could be inside the mind of an individual. Although, if you're at the Cannes Lions this week, you might see a few who think they fit the bill…
Above: The traditional route to becoming a creative director meant that, by the time you got to the top, you’d be a creative genius able to pull inspiration from anything to create beautiful, inspiring work.
The growth of the platform expert
TikTok’s rapid rise as a platform has led to more people than ever becoming content creators. But, for those who remember the creation of YouTube (still less than 20 years ago), the art of viral videos and controlling the attention they capture has been a steadily evolving craft.
Is the current curriculum meeting the demands of the modern world? Not even close.
It’s become second nature to a generation; of TikTok’s three billion users, the largest demographic is aged between 10 and 19. This young group, along with others from the past two decades, is full of creators, strategists, and algorithm experts. For our industry, does that mean that we need different creative teaching? Hell yes. Is the current curriculum meeting the demands of the modern world? Not even close. Should agencies focus on attracting this talent earlier, possibly bypassing university level education entirely? Well, that one is more complicated.
Last year, VaynerMedia EMEA removed its need for degree qualifications for entry level creative and strategy roles because we believe it’s an unnecessary requirement. We want to encourage diversity and believe creativity can come from anyone, not just those who went to university. However, we wouldn’t rule graduates out from working with us.
The important part is connecting with talent wherever it comes from and creating workplaces that both appeal to it and nurture it.
Above: TikTok’s rapid rise has led to more people than ever becoming content creators.
Nurturing the next generation of creatives
Our industry needs to collaborate, learn from, believe in and recognise a new generation of creatives. When advertisers spot the next big thing, we tend to run towards it and try to mimic or co-opt it, which leads to insincere work that - surprise, surprise - people hate. We need to acknowledge that an entire generation has learnt about platforms and creativity by intuitively using them.
So, rather than changing the way things are being taught in a classroom, we should be offering career options to people from all walks of life. Some of the best creatives out there are currently working in other fields, or are entrepreneurs who haven’t even considered a career in advertising. But they know how to build a brand and utilise the insights you get on social media. They’re bakers sharing their expertise on #BakingTok or #FoodTok. Or, they might be one of the legions of talented gamers sharing their experiences, skill and humour on Twitch, or countless other platforms.
Some of the best creatives out there are currently working in other fields, or are entrepreneurs who haven’t even considered a career in advertising.
For agencies, this means our external communications - the events, press, awards and everything else - need to reflect that we want them to work with us. Rather than worrying there’s a lack of talent coming into our creative teams, we should be rethinking our approach to hiring, removing subjectivity from our work and celebrating the wonderfully varied and diverse lives we all lead.
After all, it’s real people we’re making the work for, not just a select few.