The international creative industry is going through its most drastic transformation ever. With the increasing prominence of digital, social and mobile, co-creation and user experience are no longer just buzz-words. They are nails in the coffin of an age-old advertising model we once held sacred.
But what does this actually mean for those starting their careers in the industry today? How far has a voracious start-up mentality saturated ad-land? What should the industry be doing to get the best out of the Generation Next executives who will be guardians of its future? And what glimpses of the future can the new star players provide today?
At a recent thought-leadership event that I chaired at Amsterdam’s Pakhuis de Zwijger – ‘Generation Next & the Creative Industry’ – five innovators from a variety of different backgrounds, all under the age of 30, trained a shrewd eye on creativity today, to a packed audience of over 300 industry players.
The line-up on the night included DDB & Tribal Amsterdam creative and Jonge Honden board member Ramin Bahari, Miami Ad School graduate and JWT creative director Giorgi Popiashvili, leading paper artist Mandy Smith, RA*W founder and TBWA/NEBOKO account manager Robert Volten and Uber community manager Casper Oppenhuis de Jong.
In case you aren’t aware of them, Jonge Honden, or Young Dogs, is a Netherlands-based group set up to share knowledge and inspiration among those starting their careers in the creative industry. It allows young creatives to work on real pitches, take part in workshops and networking sessions, visit the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity and in doing so, expand their portfolios and their expertise.
RA*W, as in ‘raw meat’, challenges the traditional ad agency dictum of ‘learn on the job’. It exists to allow ad professionals to learn – more, faster and in a different way. The group hosts regular free meetings between a network of ad industry professionals, to inspire and impart knowledge, sharing experiences and ambitions.
The speakers focused on personal road maps for success in this brave new world. Jonge Honden’s Ramin Bahari and paper artist Mandy Smith argued that today, more than ever, it is important to find something you are good at and stick to it, to become an expert in a single area, rather than be a generalist. In Mandy’s case, paper art was something she had been inspired by as a child and had picked up again, primarily as a hobby, while working as an art director. Despite fierce competition for the few paper art commissions each year, Mandy had been advised to ‘stick to paper’.
This rejection of the ‘Jack of all trades’ approach was echoed by Ramin. He argued that focusing on one single skill area and excelling in that specialism makes the next generation of creatives an easier sell to employers.
Metallica to Miami
Giorgi Popshiavili – who trained as an architect – got his first break in advertising after a friend spotted the Metallica cassette covers he was producing in his spare time and offered him a job at an agency in his hometown of Tbilisi. After setting up his own agency in his early twenties he took the brave step of retraining, moving to Hamburg and Miami Ad School.
Giorgi focused on the current preoccupation with behavioural targeting and the technological advances that allow pinpointing of an audience more effectively. He proposed that instead of an obsession with what changes, creatives should keep in mind the universal human truths that will always remain the same. He urged the industry to ask "What do people want?", rather than simply resorting to the heart-sinking motivation, "Let’s do a Facebook campaign".
Robert Volten tackled the state of the industry in general. He compared the current level of structured training offered to young professionals at creative agencies with that offered to employees at Google and Starbucks – and it doesn’t compare very favourably at all.
Fears of a talent drain
Robert championed the importance of formal training over what he considers the outdated model of ‘learning by doing’. He posed the question: "What does the creative industry of the future look like?" His concern is that stellar creative talent of the future will abandon agencies in favour of working client-side, particularly within the start-up community, unless dramatic changes take place.
Final speaker Casper Oppenhuis de Jong, himself working in-house, for start-up success story Uber, spoke from the perspective of someone who has experienced both the traditional and a more modern approach to creativity today: he worked in technology in China, and for the Financial Times in London, before moving back to the Netherlands to launch US travel app Uber in the market.
Uber itself is a modern phenomenon, taking one of the oldest industries in the world – taxis – and making it efficient and more profitable through cutting-edge technology and the ubiquity of smartphones. It has a policy of no ad or PR agencies, no press releases and no above the line advertising, in favour of consumer-focused initiatives, conceived and managed internally.
Casper highlighted a number of quick-fire advances the brand has implemented in the Dutch market, such as the Uber ‘Sloep’ boat hire service along Amsterdam’s canals.
At the heart of these innovations are three golden rules that Casper claims he sticks to: think #WWMD – ‘what would mom do?’ – keeping the idea simple and user-friendly; endorse ‘sharing is caring’ – opting for campaigns that are shareable; and go for ‘execution over perfection’ – don’t be afraid to try and fail. A focus on producing above polishing urged people, he said, to be flexible and adaptable to the requirements of the market.
One thing that all the speakers did agree on is the need for the creative industry to take stock and prepare itself for the future, in order to encourage the very best talent to continue to rise up through the ranks.
While the importance of mentoring and training by those at the top of the industry was highlighted by all panel members, the vigour and passion of these Generation Next star players seems to indicate that the best people for the job of taking the industry to the next level are exactly those who will still be benefiting from this change in years to come.
Thought Leader Profile
Kerrie Finch is the chief executive of FinchFactor. Kerrie, from the UK, founded the company in Amsterdam in 2009. FinchFactor is widely regarded as the expert in reputation management and brand amplification worldwide for companies working within the creative industry. Kerrie was PR Director at Wieden+Kennedy Amsterdam. There, she created the PR strategy from a still-start, encompassing everything from relationship management with pitch consultancies, platform events and PR consultancy for global clients, to strategic speaker opportunities, internal communications, and thought leadership. Kerrie is the Cannes Lions representative for the Netherlands. She has served on many juries, including the Clio Awards and New York Festivals.