Creative Comedy - Are women funny?

By The Drum, Administrator

November 22, 2007 | 6 min read

“It’s nothing to do with lacking a sense of comedy, as someone after a few two many Baileys suggested at the Cream Awards. Or any other bizarre, conspiracy theory-type reason, for that matter,” says McCann Birmingham creative director Paul Baker. “It is simply because we get very, very few female applicants. About 15 per cent of our creative department is female at present and it should be greater than that.”

CheethamBell JWT managing director, Jane Clancy, illustrates the point that women have no trouble getting on in the industry’s more executive side, and agrees that there’s a real disproportion in the CVs she receives for creative roles. It’s something Clancy finds “frustrating,” especially, she says, when so many products are marketed at women.

Laddish culture

“It is hard to get your head around,” Clancy sighs, “creative courses at colleges and universities can’t be anywhere near as skewed, so where are these women going?” The old cliché of a ‘laddish’ culture prevailing in creative departments could be to blame, Clancy believes. “It had a very aggressive style which hasn’t lingered today, but maybe the perception has,” she says, recalling the more aggressive advertising techniques of agencies in the seventies and eighties.

“Despite the fact the creative industry prides itself on being modern; it still at times suffers from an old school boy’s network feel, which requires steely determination to break,” adds Viv-id managing director, Rachel Emson.

“Of course there’s a certain kind of male humour,” says Iris’ creative director Pete Armstrong, “you know what I’m saying, it’s not always on an intellectual level and that’s why us blokes like it.”

Mick Foden, joint executive creative director at TBWA, agrees, saying, “Blokes think they’re funny and resort to Viz-type humour more often than not as a kind of default mechanism. But that is only suited to certain types of client.”

Armstrong though, doesn’t think humour is the issue. The problem is, he says, that “women are smart”. “They have too much self-respect to put themselves through what the great majority of agencies expect of junior creatives. That’s working for nothing, kissing arse and laughing at the creative director’s jokes. Women tend to be more principled and that is indeed what makes them good creatives when they stick it out.”

TBWA’s Foden says an “atavistic attitude” is at fault for the lack of women in creative roles. Foden believes some creative departments don’t value a woman’s take on a problem and stick with the obvious solution of hiring men. “After all,” he says, “a man knows how to handle another man doesn’t he? A woman can be sensitive and approach things differently – attributes some blokes simply don’t want to tackle, especially when they don’t want to be seen to be confrontational.”

Fear of Rejection

When Warren Gaskell, newly appointed creative director, inherited the 14-strong Gyro International creative team it contained just one woman. Gaskell doesn’t believe sexism is to blame though, and cites fear at the root. “In my team we all call a spade a spade,” he says, “because every creative in the world – and I don’t care who it is – comes up with some shit now and again. The trick is having a culture which allows you to identify it as such and indeed call it by its name.

“Maybe the same people who think women don’t have a sense of humour are just a little scared of how some women would react to being told ‘it’s shit.’ I’m lucky, Maria doesn’t mind one little bit, in fact, I know she’d thank me for it.”

Propaganda’s, creative director, John Dean asked the male and female members of his creative department to enter the debate, and together they determined that a fear of rejection was ultimately to blame. “Everyday you watch what you think are the best ideas you’ve ever had killed off by the creative director like watching migrating gnus cross a crocodile infested river,” Dean puts it, somewhat vividly. “Only the fit, the strong (and the lucky) survive. And when you cross that river there’s another river over the ridge: the client.

“The girls said rejection was the toughest thing to deal with and had been the one thing that had made them question being in the business,” says Dean, “the boys said it’s the one thing that makes you better at what you do. Perhaps that attitude is responsible.”

Perhaps there are signs that attitudes and perceptions are beginning to change, though. Birmingham’s Seal Communications managing director, Claire Deeley, points to her agency’s seven-strong creative team featuring four women. Despite this, Seal still has a male creative director, adding weight to the fact that even in the most mixed teams, the senior creative roles still tend to fall to men.

Lack of humour

Deeley says, “In the retail, consumer and leisure areas where we do a lot of our work, the females on our team seem to really understand the needs of our clients and they’re really interested by those areas. They know what tickles the audience, so there’s a huge role for women in the industry.”

Iris’ Armstrong echoes the fact that women’s ideals can be better suited to specific campaigns: “There are female traits especially well suited to certain briefs or brands. You need them in your creative department because that’s like the real world outside.

The wealth of female directors shows that women are making their presence in the industry’s business roles felt, and dismisses old arguments like pregnancy buffering them on the career ladder. The supposed lack of humour is a new theory, but ultimately fruitless, according to fellow directors.

“Girls bring style, wit and rounded perspective to a creative department,” says Mick Foden. “This can only keep the boys on their toes and make the work the department produces infinitely richer.”

Different’s, creative boss, Chris Rickaby offers some final reassurance of meritocracy, “Having spent 13 years as a creative director in advertising and interviewed lots of creatives over the years, I have never asked anybody to tell me gag or do a bit of slapstick,” he says. “I just looked at their books. If they were good they got the job.”


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