Angela Natividad's Live & Uncensored!

02 May 2012

The Toxic Cesspool of Cluelessness

I like the show precisely because it succeeds in shining a bright light down into this dark abyss that is Adlandia's massive ego problem. If you go back and look at the staffers' faces at SK+G, you can see how unhappy they are, and while it's hard to watch, it's also great footage. When you work in a toxic cesspool of cluelessness, you have to recognize it, and choose to save yourself.

A colleague told me last week that the necessities of working in advertising have been reduced to a hasty copy-pasting of other work people have done -- often straight out of presentations from other agencies, procured via backchannels of disgruntled agency folk or elbow-rubbers with slippery typing fingers.

I said this was sad, that all agencies don't work like this. "AKQA doesn't," I added with maybe too-obvious naïveté.

He gave me a thoughtful smile, one of those "oh-you'll-learn" expressions where the sides of the mouth tip upward just enough to appear well-meaning. "Of course there are exceptions," he said, "but they are exceptions."

We've chosen a thankless industry that takes everything from us and grinds personal ethics, often your entire personal life, to fine dust. One of the icons I respect and trust the most said the biggest mistake I make is that I'm too holistic about work and play; what the industry needs from me is to be schizophrenic. "Unless you're being asked to do something truly compromising, you are not being paid for your values," he emphasised, gently but firmly, over the dinner table. His eyes bore into mine. It wasn't a condescending look, an I-mean-well look. It was a this-is-life-here's-the-facts look. It is the look my dad gives me when he's tossing me a life jacket.

David Burn's words are particularly resonant tonight because fuck, I am tired. Eight years into the thick of advertising and marketing, I maintained the conviction that you have to fight to produce good work, fight to listen to people -- despite the clients, despite your boss -- and painstakingly construct that silken thread that will ultimately connect a brand to those it serves. Over time, I thought, that thread will harden. Everyone will get it. You just have to keep at it.

Someone, I thought, needs to do this for advertising: remind it of its importance in the lives of people, and what responsibility accompanies that importance.

It wasn't until I stopped blogging for bread and started actually working at agencies that I understood why creatives got so angry with me for being hard on their work. In the end, it is easier to do bad work than it is to do good. You don't want the battle for quality to be your baby, not when it's so obviously not what the client wants or what your team is equipped to produce. You can't do this alone; you just want to go home after 8, and hopefully not take your work with you (it so often sneaks into your handbag anyway, ready and waiting for the moment you try going to bed).

Little by little you start to crumble. Things matter less; you're just trying to get through the goddamn day. Your life becomes a question of constant comparison. Who's making more? What the fuck, why?! The answer is usually not merit. It eats at you; you chew on your pencil, at your nails, on your soul. You look at the guys giving presentations from Ogilvy: their slick hair, their piles of bullshit wrapped in lip service about storytelling and "logic": just more words, really, vainglorious and ultimately unactionable if you're not Ogilvy, talking to a client who is not LVMH. Your limbs grow cold.

So what is supposed to happen to you?

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