You lucky b****rds - why we'd love to be starting out as a creative now
Mairi Clark speaks with Patrick Collister following a recent Creative Social debate discussing how now is the best time to be a creative.The idea that life today is easy for young creatives is something that would probably stick in the throat of most graduates and trainees that populate agencies in the UK today. But a recent debate, held by Creative Social, saw three legends of advertising: Patrick Collister, ex-Ogilvy & Mather; Steve Henry, founder of HHCL and Sir John Hegarty, of BBH, hold court to discus whether ‘youth was wasted on the young’, and in particular if it was easier for young people in advertising today than it was in their day. But is it? It may be Mad Men bringing the eyeglass of fashion onto advertising, but it may also be the romanticism of the ‘olden days of advertising’ clouding those glasses. Mairi Clark talks to veteran adman, Patrick Collister, one of the speakers about his take on the debate. Collister started as a trainee copywriter at Ogilvy Benson & Mather in 1977. By 1985, he was the youngest board director of Young & Rubicam, and had a stint as joint creative director of creative hotshop, Boase Massimi Pollitt, In 1993, he returned to O&M as executive creative director, rising to vice-chairman in 1998. The fact that, at O&M, he established the first new media department of any London agency, and that he’s scooped many awards over the years, makes him a good spokesperson for the industry between the 70s and now. “When I started out at BMP, I was the only graduate,” he says. “They called me Nigel. Young creatives find it much more difficult to get started. Schools are doing so many more courses and you’ve got 1500/2000 graduates coming out. Most of the people in my day came from art college. Advertising has also become very middle-class. When I was a copy trainee, in the late seventies at O&M, we had a gypsy, an ex-policeman and, of course, Salman Rushdie.”Collister believes there’s more pressure on young people to get on in the industry, which is stopping real creativity coming through but he’s looking forward to a new initiative that’s going to start soon. “The Government will be taking on school leavers as apprentices for the creative industry,” he says. “They won’t have degrees but what they will have is the skill and energy. There are a lot of people who don’t go to university because they have dyslexia, but can still contribute immensely to creativity.”The fact that there is myriad media to use, is also an opportunity, he wishes he’d had. “It was very different,” he says. “It was almost impossible to innovate because media was owned by traditional media owners. There was one commercial TV station, and commercial radio was basically the pirate stations, who had to really woo advertisers. I had ideas that you couldn’t run because of the media, you just did 30 seconds or 40 seconds. You couldn’t do odd shapes because of the way newspapers set out their pages. Thanks to this digital innovation, you can innovate all the time. As a result of this fragmentation, newspapers are falling over themselves to innovate.” Blurring between advertising, PR and celebrity is also a factor. “When I first started out in advertising, you were ‘a copywriter in advertising’,” he says. “The way that entertainment, music and promotions are merging, in advertising you can be a copywriter, a filmmaker or you can design websites to stream video. As a creative person in advertising, your longevity is eternal.”Collister then goes on to mention a surprising acquaintance who he believes embodies what the new ‘advertising’ is. “I find Will.I.Am inspiring,” he says. “I met him in Cannes. He became the creative director for an American tech company and was constantly on his mobile, taking pictures, video and messaging. He said to me, “now I do everything on my mobile, and in the next few years, 85 per cent of content on the web will be video”. That’s the beauty of it. Young people coming into the industry now are not trapped in the expectation of advertising.”But having said all of that. Collister is still reminiscent of the days when TV channels had tens of millions of viewers. “I remember talking to John Webster [legendary adman],” he says. “He was always constantly thankful for the break of being able to do what we were doing, making ads. He used to say, “When we came into the business, you wanted to be a novelist. But if you were successful, you’d be read by maybe thousands. Tonight, our ads are going to be watched by millions”.”.