Caution: this is a long, rambling post just like Part 1 on ‘long hours in advertising‘. Let me begin by reiterating:
– there is no short cut to success; hard work is a must in any profession – a positive trait which needs to be celebrated
– however, let us not confuse hard work with what passes off as ‘working late’ in the ad business. In most cases working late is forced on employees due to bad habits and ‘attitudes’ : lack of discipline, poor planning & time management etc. E.g., new business pitches. Many a times work ‘expands’ to fill the time available till the deadline or there are simply not enough resources to work on a pitch. So even if we have a month to prepare for a pitch (on rare occasions) the actual work, including the planning, happens the night before, stretching to moments before the team has to leave for the client presentation
– long hours and working on weekends is a must on many occasions (and that is a good thing with many positives) in the advertising business; but that does not mean that such a practice should be worn as a medal and those who manage time and their responsibilities well enough should be seen as shirkers
– the industry at large is not in a position to address the issue at a fundamental level and bring in work-life balance because part of it involves saying ‘no’ to unreasonable demands from clients, implementing changes to agency remuneration, investing in resources etc. The ad business is not in a position to initiate discussion on these topics, forget implementing them . Reason: the industry’s position with clients is relatively weak compared to what it was years ago and with other ‘consulting’ industries.
I had referred to ‘not getting it right’ as one of the issues which leads to re-work and unnecessary late night work. One of my ex-colleagues explained it well. When a team takes on a project, enthusiasm is at 100% (maybe higher); but at the first instance of re-work enthusiasm levels dip to 90%; second time around to 85% and 3rd time around to 80%. But often, at the fourth revision the enthusiasm levels dip to 20%, not a marginal dip to 75% like in the earlier rounds. So re-working – working on the same campaign or script is a colossal waste of time & energy. Often times the reasons for rework itself is vague: working on a trial and error basis just to satisfy the whims of a client who is either unclear on what he wants or is unable to judge the work, over-researching a script and giving in to every feedback of the consumer who suggested changes in a focus group discussion and so on.
Making large scale changes to how the industry operates involves huge investments (in better talent or more resources) which the industry is not in a position to afford. Our destinies are tied to larger industry sentiments and consumer spending. If those take a hit, advertising budgets are the first to be cut usually. Financial discipline is a good thing and the agency business is a business like any other. So profits are a must and unaffordable investments must be shunned. In any case big ticket investments like better talent, more resources or salary hike are linked to our remuneration from clients – they don’t go up automatically every year. Retainer fees are decent only with a few large spenders while most of the industry operates in wafer-thin margins. So agencies can never afford to ‘rock the boat’ and are perpetually at the risk of losing the business or being called to pitch for a business they are working on. This insecurity leads to saying ‘yes’ to almost everything, including re-works and unreasonable demands even from the junior most guy in the client brand team. The agency business used to be about the CEOs of two companies working closely together and partnering each other. That scenario has given way for most client-agency interaction to be at the junior level, with some inputs or direction from the CMO. Very few agency-client relationships are a ‘partnership of equals’ – it is mostly a buyer-vendor relationship at play. Of course, agencies can do a lot to change this scenario and raise the level to one of equals or partners (more on that perhaps on another post). Confession: I have been part of the problem and practiced the very same things, which I am ranting about now, when I was in advertising.
Of course there is a positive outcome of working late: the high of diverse agency teams coming together and put the pieces of a puzzle together is unmatched. The camaraderie and the joy of creating something together is a big boost for the positive spirit within the agency. And many a times, the best thinking and creative output happens under such pressure. But working late as a habit…as a culture is a negative, wasteful effort. I am told that there are some agencies (small, independent) which implement a ‘no working late’ policy. Their rationale is that agency business thrives on inspiration from life around us and we must find time for work-life balance that actually enhances our output.
Some of the ills of our business which have gone on to become the norm and accepted practice can be corrected through some effort by individuals and their immediate bosses. Some others (remuneration, raising the agency profile within the marketing fraternity) are in the hands of industry captains.
“Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.”
~ Mahatma Gandhi