WPP move with D&AD may help to end scandal of UK agency unpaid intern roles

I suppose congratulations to WPP are in order after it decided to offer paid internships at its leading London ad agencies and design companies as part of D&AD’s Young Blood initiative.

But the truth is that it’s a scandal such a move is deemed to be a novelty.

UK agencies have been making scandalous use of free labour for decades now; most strikingly in using the services of unpaid creative teams and then, in a few cases, going on to make money from their labours after they’ve left.

The agencies in question used to claim that they were giving such tyros a chance and the opportunity to create a book of professional work – which might get them a job somewhere else. But really it was a case of penny-pinching meanness; the more so as agencies still (for the most part) provide an environment in which conspicuous consumption is part of the fabric.

In some ways this is similar to the industry’s attitude to its charity NABS (National Advertising Benevolent Society). It dips its hand in its pockets at flashy do’s, far less so as part of a routine policy to support those who get turfed out of a job because, for example, they’re no longer 29.

Anyway it will be interesting to see how many such internships WPP offers and how much it pays. And whether or not its holding company peers (who are all big companies with thousands of employees and vastly overpaid boards of directors and senior managers) choose to do the same. Were they to do so it would be a mere fraction of what they spend on awards entries and the fun and games that follow.

I’ve no idea if WPP boss Sir Martin Sorrell (left) is a chess player but I’m sure he likes to think a few moves forward. Do I detect a new, ‘softer’ Sorrell (as least as far as public attitudes are concerned) in the wake of the mooted Omnicom Publicis merger? Is the one time biggest bad baron keen to show himself as more caring and sharing now WPP will fall to second place behind PubliCom?

No, fanciful nonsense. Ignore that one.

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About Stephen Foster

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Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.