Advertising – a hobby for the independently wealthy?

Matthew Charlton is the CEO of Brothers and Sisters. He was a founder of BETC London, has run agencies in London, Amsterdam and the US and has worked on brands including Johnnie Walker, PlayStation and Sony Ericsson.

The price of London living may hurt the ad industry

I've had many conversations with recruitment experts and consultants over the last year on the issues that face advertising agencies and recruiting the brightest and best from all backgrounds.

The most illuminating has been with Holly Day from Congregation Partners. I interviewed her for this article. It’s a reality check, or maybe more like a reality cheque.

She articulates the view that adland has slowly and silently drifted towards being only an available option to the comfortable, moderately posh, everyone looks the same upper middles – classes. A creative version of Wimbledon. A world where the only people who can afford to do it are now the ones who’ve been given the deposit for a flat.

This is the context Holly deals with everyday:

"Throughout the 90’s and into the ‘noughties’ leading agencies could expect somewhere between 3,000-4,000 CVs a year, from the country’s most talented, most entrepreneurial and most creative university leavers, irrespective of their socio-economic background.”

This tallies with the experience of most industry leaders currently running agencies.

" Young people fought tooth-and-nail for a chance to join the industry – because back then, as well as being fast-paced, creatively entrepreneurial and culturally relevant, advertising was also a comparatively lucrative career choice. That’s not the case anymore.

"It’s partly economic – grad pay in advertising is now bordering-on untenable,particularly in London. Averaging £23K, adland starting salaries are £7,000 lower than the average starting salaries of the top 100 British companies (many of which are not even in London or the South East). In banking the average graduate starting salary is now over double this figure at c. £50K.

"According to government figures £22K is the minimum salary needed to live in London. We have not come across a graduate who has started on £22K who is managing to do this. The ones we speak to are still living at home and/or adding monthly to their growing debt mountain, forced to supplement their income with credit cards and overdrafts. In our experience it’s not unusual for graduates to still be living with their parents two years after joining the industry.”

This tallies with the experience of all of the people who I have met who have come into the industry in the last five years.

Is this issue complicated or is it simple? Of course it is influenced by the great tragedy that the price of London housing means it’s a distant far off dream for most graduates. But agencies can’t fix that. What we can fix is making sure that we pay enough to make sure people from any class and background can at least afford to live in London and believe that they can not only make their dreams come true but can get the financial rewards as well over the long term.

It’s always been the way that the real money is at the top and there is nothing wrong with that. It’s vital people have a dot on the horizon to aim for, and that is still for most starting and selling your agency, and where you can make some serious heavy cash if you are lucky.

But until then we have to do everything we can to make sure that we support the talent from everywhere and any background to have a chance of getting into the industry and keeping our talent pool rich rather than just the staff.

Matthew Charlton is chief executive of Brothers and Sisters. He tweets @MJCharltonesq

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