Advertising is an industry with no shortage of issues, but it's also one brimming with generous, talented people eager to give a leg up to others. Here, copywriter and lecturer Andrew Boulton shares his first-hand experiences of the kindness of creative strangers.
How do you write about how essentially good the creative industries are when there’s so much demonstrably bad about them? We shall see.
After all, to be creative you must feel safe. Yet there’s evidence – not speculation, not over-sensitivity, not ‘misunderstandings’ – that too many creative people (young, and indeed, old) do not feel safe or welcome in their work. A short and deeply upsetting browse through the stories on the Dear Adland website should be enough to convince you of this.
How then, may a person’s imagination spark in these places when hostility, prejudice and exclusion drench the walls?
We talk to our students a great deal about resilience. How difficult it is to be a successful advertising creative without it.
But the resilience they learn from us is incomplete. It is armour from the waist up and pyjama bottoms below. They become harder and more pragmatic when it comes to their ideas. But the other things they must weather-proof their hearts against does, I admit, worry me.
A creative life, especially one in advertising, does still provide sanctuary for some people who don’t merit that preservation. The fragile egos and the rampant ones (often these are the same thing). The bullies and the belittlers. The loudmouths, the manipulators and those for whom success only makes them less inclined to reach back down the ladder.
No, it would take a powerful prescription of rose-tinted spectacles to proclaim the creative industries as perfect. Yet, each year, we ship another batch of little ones out into this world with only the most fragile baggage – hope and belief.
And the reason we don’t go mad with worry is because, despite the flaws, the injustices, the closed doors and the barely-buried bigotries, there is still a great deal of good in the creative world.
This summer, you may have noticed, things got a little messy. The mess, in our immediate vicinity, was a collective of exceptionally talented creative students unable to make their usual pilgrimage to the great creative cathedrals.
It could, from our small point of view, have been disastrous. And yet.
From almost the very first moments of lockdown, professional creatives have leapt to our side. I shan’t name names (there are far too many, and lots of people find that sort of thing mortifying), but we have had countless offers of crits, chats, competitions, challenges – an abundance of generosity in a summer of so little.
And these creatives are precisely the sort of people you would peg for having something – many things – better to do. And yet here they are, replying to the coldest of LinkedIn calls, handing out email addresses, making time, giving advice, sharing, sharing, sharing.
A course like ours depends on this spirit of creative giving. Even in the days where you could happily lick your fellow man, the industry gave enthusiastically when asked (and often, when we did not).
It gave us talks from inspiring characters, great survivors and people who happily muddled onto the set and stayed for the free croissants. It gave us briefs to complete and feedback when they were completed. It gave us invitations to visit and linger and ask whatever was on our minds. One chap on LinkedIn, without anyone asking, compiled a comprehensive list of the most important adverts ever made that every young student should know – and simply gave it to us all.
In this business, there are bad apples, and there are bad barrels too. And the kindness and charity of many wonderful individuals does not mask the broken bits. (Although, incidentally, the people most supportive of the next creative generation tend also to be the ones we see fighting to make our industry better.)
I can’t defend the industry, and there is always discomfort about nudging each new litter of creatives into a world that doesn’t always do the best job with human beings.
But there are wonderful people in the creative life. And I can’t think of safer hands than theirs.
Andrew Boulton is a lecturer in Creative Advertising at the University of Lincoln. Follow him on Twitter @Boultini