The ad industry could sure use a personality make-over

8 Nov

Arrogant attitudeLet me stake my position clearly: I think there are too many turds working in advertising.

There are a lot of good-hearted, generous people to be sure, but the other ones are dragging us down.

It’s been my experience that the advertising industry has a sizable chip on its black turtle-necked shoulders. A couple of incidents over the past week re-enforced this up-ourselves attitude that continues to permeate our industry.


A recent Island university graduate looking for a copywriting intern job somewhere, tweeted his interest in a clever way and a Vancouver ad agency responded. The grad was asked if he had a portfolio of work and he said no, but he had social media and digital contest work to show. Good enough for an interview, said the ad agency. So he hauled his butt off to Vancouver – and the costs of that, plus missing a day of work.

At the interview he was asked where his portfolio was, and he repeated that he didn’t have one but had the stuff he had mentioned to them earlier. In response, the creative guy at the agency dressed him down for showing up without one, offered him a couple of bon mots for his trouble and a few minutes later the intern was heading back to the ferry.

I have heard variations on this story throughout my career. Creative advertising folks have it all wrong. We are not God’s chosen ones. We are not saving lives, or toiling selflessly for the betterment of our community. Instead we are guffawing at our own cleverness, obsessing over awards and lording it over people who want to get into the biz. The opportunity here was to help this smart, enthusiastic person have a good impression of the industry, even if he hadn’t been right for the job. Instead he walked away feeling bad about himself and ad agencies. Fail.


A potential client called us on the phone to ask whether we worked with small businesses. I responded with something very Master Po-like: “Even the mightiest oak tree begins as an acorn.” She said she was relieved because the other Victoria agency she had spoken with said they never work for any client with less than a $50,000 marketing budget.

Fair enough, we all have our business models. But when she asked the agency for a recommendation to another shop she might approach, they refused to help her.

We are now working with this delightful client because we ranked high in search when she checked out who else was in town. Her first comment to us was, “I had a bad first impression of your industry.” I’ll say. What would it have taken for this other agency to provide her with a list of places with the caveat that their business models may not also align with her needs? Instead: You’re too small and we’re not going to waste our time helping you. Thanks for stopping by. Fail.

As our business becomes more complex and challenging, and skills come into play from more areas of society, I hope this arrogant attitude will dissipate and we’ll be left with good ambassadors for our business wherever potential clients or employees touch us. It won’t happen soon enough for me. We are screwing ourselves with this shameful customer service.

I don’t want to end on such a bummer note, so if you have any anecdotes about good experiences with ad agencies, please share them here!

We could use the PR.

(Sorry I used a bad word in the first paragraph.)


9 Responses to “The ad industry could sure use a personality make-over”

  1. Jack Steinman November 8, 2011 at 2:20 pm #

    Regarding pricks: I don’t know why this comes to mind, but I recall that, printed on the record label of the A-side of the Buzzcocks’ “A Different Kind of Tension,” is the phrase; ‘THE ROSE ON THE CHOCOLATE BOX’ and on the B-side; ‘THE THORN BENEATH THE ROSE.’ Maybe this is endemic to the industry… but it doesn’t have to be.

  2. Doug Brown November 8, 2011 at 3:24 pm #

    Well Jack, we know some of the really good people, mentioning the D’Rozario brothers by name. Talent and decency in abundance. Hard to imagine such callow responses coming from anyone on their teams. Perhaps, as the Chinese claim, the fish really does rot from the head down.

  3. Michael Tension November 8, 2011 at 4:03 pm #

    When I was just starting out I met with a handful of the local agencies and found all to be really supportive and I left the interviews feeling really jazzed about the biz.

  4. Bertha November 8, 2011 at 4:07 pm #

    That’s a downer. What an awful and discouraging start to the first “real” job out of uni.

  5. Doug Brown November 8, 2011 at 4:14 pm #

    > Excellent. And good to hear. That should be the consistent take-away Michael. Wish it was. I remember when I applied for a job in Toronto 10 years ago – and I had 15 years experience at that time – and the creative team kept me waiting in the reception for an hour, then sent out a message telling me to leave my portfolio and they would have a look and I could come back in a week and get it, which would have made it impossible for me to continue looking for work at other agencies. Arrogance and thoughtlessness.

    But oops, that’s not very uplifting!

    > I’m happy to report that the copywriter intern candidate in question is off the ledge now and back looking for positions Bertha.

  6. Eric Ommundsen November 8, 2011 at 6:26 pm #

    Business results and campaigns will come and go but how you treat people and help them grow their lives and careers really provides the lasting legacy.

    I’ll always remember being given time by both the folks at Palmer Jarvis and Comier Communicators in Vancouver when I was starting out around 20 yrs ago. PJ was laying people off, but they still spent the time to talk and give advice, and Jean Cormier gave me advice and called two other people he knew while I was sitting there to set up information interviews and see if they had openings.

    In a ‘what goes around’ way I was later able to hire Cormier’s firm 5 yrs later when I was an advertising and PR manager and we were seeking a PR agency. Regardless of getting business later, it was a great thing for him to do and I always try to make time for anyone now based on that experience, and to mentor our team to do the same. Good things can happen!

  7. Doug Brown November 8, 2011 at 8:55 pm #

    Such a great story Eric! That’s what I love to hear. Of course we all needed help when we got our own starts in the business, but it’s amazing how many forget that when they’re reached the lofty heights of agency employee. Glad to hear you are paying back some of that generosity you yourself were shown. Thanks for the comment.

  8. Ciara Capozzi November 9, 2011 at 1:26 pm #

    Ok, going to pump Copeland’s tire a little here.. as a Bcom student, I was lucky enough to get in as an intern at Copeland. I had a chance to pick the brains of every member of the team, my input and ideas were taken seriously, and I was involved in every way they could manage (including giving me VIP treatment with my own business cards, office, and pic on the website!). I learned more relevant, specific information there in 4 months in regards to my desired career in advertising than I did in 4 years at university. As my first taste of the industry, the people I met and came in contact with were awesome and left me with a positive outlook on the industry. Hope it stays that way!

  9. Doug Brown November 9, 2011 at 2:17 pm #

    It was a pleasure having you Ciara and thank you for the tire pumping. We wanted to be mean and nasty to you but you are just too darn nice, curses.

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