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Jane Austin: will the ad industry’s creative talent survive the ‘Great Techification’?

Plenty of people at Cannes this week would have you believe that creativity is going to save us. Not be a killjoy or anything but the current list of the world’s most pressing problems suggests that creativity has its work cut out.

Nonetheless, we’ve had P&G’s Marc Pritchard calling creativity a “superpower” and the Cannes Lions organizers making statements like: “In extreme moments of crisis, creativity is more important than ever”.

If creativity is so important to brands, why then is the industry de-prioritising creative talent? During his appearance on stage earlier this week, LinkedIn CEO Ryan Roslansky said the number of people in the industry with creative skills, from art direction to design, dropped 17% over the last five years.

He also pointed to the “techification” of Cannes, highlighting Cannes Lions data showing that among the professionals attending the festival, there has been a drop in 32% of creative skills compared with a 67% increase in share of tech skills.

With tech giants Meta, Spotify and Google taking over the beaches and even, in Amazon’s case, the port at Cannes, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. But it does underline the fact that, despite all the talk, creative skills are being sidelined, and the industry is suffering as a result. Roslansky said that more people are leaving advertising than joining it, citing research that shows the sector has lost 5.5% more people than it has gained.

Adding yet another category to the Cannes Lions awards won’t solve this problem. Investing in training, support and the recruitment and retention of creative talent is required if the ad industry wants to avoid being subsumed by bigger sectors, like tech. Obviously, coming up with new ways to sell the industry to young people and offer them inspiration and a grounding in creative skills is a big part of this – especially in the UK where funding cuts have put arts subjects at schools and colleges under threat.

Unless it’s addressed urgently, this talent crunch will tip advertising further into an existential crisis. And if advertising can’t even save itself, that doesn’t bode well for its grand plans to save the rest of the world.

Jane Austin is Founder of Persuasion Communications.
Photograph: Bronac McNeill

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