Heidi Hackemer: you need your talent more than they need you

What is it about today’s ad industry that makes Heidi Hackemer angry? Well, there’s the assholes and there’s the shitty clients and there’s the talkers that don’t do and there’s ping pong and there’s...

What makes me angry? People treating other people like replaceable cogs, leaders saying ‘it’s all about the work’ so they can continue to treat people like cogs and collect the executive salaries that come from having an army of cogs. And then allowing your army of cogs to get abused by shitty clients. How can people get treated like this in the name of advertising for chrissakes?!

Women getting harassed. Women getting marginalized. Men saying we’re making it up.

Putting all white guys in a bucket and labeling them the problem. Asshole white guys.

Confusing ping pong tables with building a strong culture. Bowing at the altar of the creative departments and the almighty creative director.

Walking into rooms with only white, straight people in them. Talking POC, but not hiring POC. Hiring token POC. Talking diversity, but not hiring diversity. Hiring token diversity.

An intern/junior hire pool dominated by each other’s kids/nieces/nephews/neighbors.

Net 60, Net 90, Net 120 client payment terms.

Getting to know ‘Middle America’ (or any audience) through focus room glass. Thinking those people ‘don’t get it’ or are less than us.

Talkers who talk about ‘bravery’, ‘social impact’, ‘diversity’, ‘how to build/run/staff a modern agency’, but aren’t truly doing it day-in and day-out. The industry glorifying these talkers.

Burn out as norm. ‘It’s just the way the industry works.’

So how can we fix it? Start by figuring your company’s values. Make your values about your people, not just the work. Talk about your values. Make sure every single decision is rooted in those values. Talk freely and often about that decisionmaking and values process, even when it means revealing tough decisions to your employees (without freaking them out) and having tough/unusual conversations with clients.

Hire good people. Marginalize the assholes. Find the other good people in the industry and the world. Make a pact to be better together. Share ideas. Support each other.

Honestly acknowledge your privilege. Use it to help others.

Create humane rules of engagement (based on your values) with your clients. Talk to them about it. Deliver work that’s good enough so that you can enforce those rules.

Get obsessed with brand... and anyone who can be a part of building it powerfully.

Invest in people (nice side effect: you’ll most likely see the cost of churn plummet while seeing the quality of the work skyrocket).

Take growth and training seriously. Make budgets and time for it. Understand and respect the science and data around the 40-hour work week. Have all bosses and their reports do a weekly one-one-one. Do a weekly ‘all-hands’. Post-mortem projects with your teams, listen to the pain points and figure out better ways forward together. Do a weekly meeting that tracks potential issues with overwork and/or clients and solve for them. Enforce and model work-free vacations. Don’t make weekend work regular work. Build a nap room. Cut off email at 7pm; invest in Boomerang for nightowl workers. Get your people out of the office, both for work and for life. Preach and practice empathy.

Create a company that’s bigger than any one person (that’s going to rely on that whole values thing – see above). Celebrate the wins, the big and the small ones.

Hire and support women. Hire and support POC. Hire and support the LGBTQIAP+ community. Hire and support veterans. Hire and support whatever type of person that you/we don’t usually hire and support. Listen to them.

Fire people that aren’t in line with your values.

Have a legit parental leave policy. Listen to and work with parents.

Get interns from MAIP. Get interns from Prep for Prep. Work with unexpected universities to give kids that aren’t in our socioeconomic class/tribe a shot. Make your kids/nieces/nephews/neighbors submit applications to jobs in the application pool; don’t make that follow-up phone call.

Make space for the doers to talk: it’s good that you believe it or understand the theory of it, but if you haven’t truly done it or lived it let those that have write/talk/teach/pontificate about it.

Try new things. Try hard things. Try ‘crazy’ things. Be willing to fuck up. Talk about the fuck ups. Apologize if necessary.

Keep trying.

Heidi Hackemer is founder of Wolf & Wilhelmine and vice-president of Chan Zuckerberg Initiative creative studio.

This piece was first published in The Drum's Anger issue in November 2017.

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