The big networks are like bottom-fishing trawlers says Joe Pytka as Cannes debates talent crisis

Cannes 2014: what have Jim Henson, Martin Amis, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Dr Seuss got in common? They all started their careers in advertising.

There was once a time when advertising could lure the best creative people in the world. Now, it would seem, we’re on the verge of a talent crisis.

imagesOne of the many speakers at Cannes who touched on the subject of attracting talent, was Jeffrey Katzenberg (left), the CEO of Dreamworks, who hailed YouTube as a fantastic platform for studios to discover upcoming stars. But when it comes to our industry, the big tech firms that have helped shape the modern age, like Google and Facebook, present as much of a threat as an opportunity.

Keith Weed, the chief marketing officer at Unilever said he had “genuine concern” about the ad industry losing its creative talent to tech firms. He noted there was a time when young creatives could go to an ad agency and build their careers from there, whereas now the talent pool is diluted. The problem, Weed argued, could be helped by encouraging entrepreneurship – referencing The Unilever Foundry, which offers mentoring and investment in digital marketing start ups in return for access to new technology and trends.

Unknown-3The merits of entrepreneurship in relation to creativity were also extolled by another big hitter at the opposite end of the industry, the legendary director and Lion of St Mark recipient this year, Joe Pytka (left).

At a press conference following his seminar at Cannes, Pytka said that the best ad people he met were entrepreneurs who were willing to dump clients they weren’t happy with. Now that ad agencies have become big multinational corporations the only thing that is important is profit, he said. He bemoaned the commoditisation of advertising, likening big advertising groups to trawlers in the ocean “scooping everything up with big nets.”

Have we truly lost all of the fun and the free-spiritedness of the age that saw Dr Seuss drawing ads for Ford and GE and Salman Rushdie coming up with taglines for Aero and American Express? Weed made a plea at Cannes to agencies find ways of making this a “really exciting industry to attract creative and ideas.” Let’s hope his call is heard and the trawlers aren’t allowed to suck the heart, soul and spirit of the industry up with them.

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About Jane Austin

Jane Austin is the founder and owner of PR agency Persuasion Communications.


  1. Advertising isn’t the only creative area which has been commoditised and controlled by multinationals whose only motive is profit.

    As Grayson Perry quipped in his Reith lecture last year, “art is an asset-class and is now the ‘A’ in the acronym SWAG, along with silver, wine and gold.”

    Art appreciation used to be about aesthetics, now it’s about money and profit.

    The art market is now dominated by four types, all of whom are hell-bent on making as much money, as quickly as possible.

    First there are the new collectors called “Flippers” – these rapacious creatures buy works by artists cheaply in bulk and then flip them at vastly higher prices to fellow speculators.

    Secondly global art galleries such as Gagosian and Hauser & Wirth, who have a stranglehold on the whole industry. What they say goes – or rather, sells.

    Thirdly, the inexorable rise of the public curator such as Sir nicholas Scrota (who are now more powerful than the Medicis ever were) is dangerous as they are not answerable to anyone and have occasional links with some global art galleries. Like lawyers, they are driven by historical precedence, which means that they have often promoted anything different, irrespective odf whether it has any merit.

    Finally, a handful of artists such as Koons, Hirst, Murakami and Wewei havemade huge fortunes by pandering to the worst excesses of the Nouveau Uber-Riche philistines, who flaunt their wealth as blatantly as baboons bare their genitalia.

    What of critics? They’ve been muzzled and pushed aside to such a extent, that there are now only 10 of the poor, beleaguered creatures working full-time in the US media.

    In 2013, Will Gompertz, the BBC’s arts editor wrote, “Money and celebrity has cast a shadow over the art world which is prohibiting ideas and debate from coming to the fore. The current system of collectors, galleries, museums and art dealers colluding to maintain the value and status of artists quashed open debate on art. We need artists to work outside the establishment and start looking at the world in a different way – to start challenging preconceptions instead of reinforcing them.”

    Duchimp and I are doing something about it. But isn’t going to be easy. We’re on our own against the big guys.

    That’s how it is and will always be in the advertising industry too.

    Keith Weed, the unfortunately named chief marketing officer of Unilever may profess a “genuine concern”
    for the ad industry, but his Unilever Foundry only offers mentoring and investment to digital marketing start- ups. It’s totally irrelevant to advertising creativity.

    In “Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure”, economist Tim Harford argues that many corporations today have the right level of centralisation for logistics and scale, but too much for innovation and creativity.

    This is particularly true in global marketing, which has denied local markets the ability to engage with local suppliers for fast innovation.

    Let’s see what happens. Globalisation may quietly implode, like al those other empires of the past. We hope so.

  2. Salman Rushdie wrote, “Naughty but nice” for Real Cream and Fay Weldon wrote “Go to work on an egg.” And there were many other, though less illustrious, real writers like Leslie Darbin, Desmond Skirrow and Hugh Atkinson churning out copy for P&G and Colgate. I’ll bet some other old farts can remember a few too.