Posts filed under ‘Work’
I’ve been reading a lot about work-life balance recently, including this piece in Campaign (paywall, sorry) by Gail Gallie of Fallon London advocating a better deal for working mums in the ad industry and this enormous essay in Atlantic Magazine by Anne-Marie Slaughter (the former director of policy planning at the US State Department) about why women still can’t have it all.
Both these pieces talk about work-life balance as it affects working mums and family life. But I think the professional industries in general (and AdLand in particular) have created a working environment that is pretty incompatible with having any kind of a life, whether that involves children or not.
I don’t have children (long story), but as a freelance the thought of ever having to go back to a five-days-a-week agency job makes me feel physically sick. Now I’ve seen what’s on the other side of the fence, I don’t think I could cope with the insane hours, short notice disruption to non-working hours and the stress levels.
It’s not just me being soft. One agency friend has cancelled lunch or dinner with me four times since March due to work commitments. Such has their role completely taken over their life that I don’t think they’ll be staying there much longer, to the agency’s loss. I know of three friends (three!) that left the industry entirely because they were so stressed that their hair was falling out. Another high-flying account director downsized to an office based account management job they could do standing on their head as their current job was destroying their life.
Note that none of the people I mentioned above are mums. This industry is not just incompatible with family life, it is, in its current format, incompatible for most people with having a life. And if we just make the work environment easier for working mums, their child-less colleagues left still dealing with the client crisis at 8pm (been there! a lot!) will be even more likely to bail on the industry.
You could argue that ANY office-based, medium-powered, white-collar job is in fact incompatible with having a healthy, balanced life. But considering that our industry is supposed to have creativity, inspiration and connection at its heart, we’re currently pretty rubbish at making sure our people are both in a fit state to embrace this – and willing to stick with it.
Neil Perkin has been doing a series of ‘Future Trends in Digital Marketing Innovation Briefings’ for Econsultancy and the roadshow hit Leeds last Thursday. Some of the things Neil talked about included Networked Enterprises and Innovation within companies. In fact it seems to me that the two are pretty much interconnected.
The days of organisations when everyone who adds value is a full time employee are fast disappearing – and for good reasons. Flexibility is an obvious one, offering the ability to pull trusted specialists in only for as long as the project demands it, with the attendant cost savings and risk reduction.
But Neil talked about the wider value of a company being connected to interesting stuff and interesting people. If innovation happens at the edges of a company and it’s all about the flow of ideas into and within an organisation, then mixing it up with fresh faces and fresh ideas would seem to be a no-brainer.
Neil also talked about how the stock of Knowledge an organisation holds isn’t as important as the flow of information, which means encouraging employees to be open to new information, share it and act quickly on it. As he put it, “acting like a startup”.
Amelia blogged recently about the ‘agency…and friends’ model:
as channels proliferate and skill-sets deepen and diverge, it is going to be impossible for an agency to effectively “own” all the skills that they need to service clients. Given that, how do we start to build a loose network of partners, developers and producers who can work along side the core agency hub? I am increasingly thinking of it as an “…and Friends” model, based on the insight that you choose your friends and not your family.
It seems to me that ‘…and friends’ has got to be the way forward – a core of full timers who look after the long term interests of their clients and curate specialist help and knowledge as and when it’s needed. Obviously, as a freelancer I’m going to be all in favour of this, but it’s been very interesting for me to see that client’s really don’t appear to be that bothered when I’m introduced as ‘Gemma who works with us’, rather than ‘Gemma who works for us’. In fact, from a Planning point of view, having an air of impartiality can be seen as a positive bonus by clients.
I actually wrote an essay about Networked Economies (or ‘…and friends’) while I was at university, which was inspired by an article in a 1996 issue of World Executive’s Digest (I know, I know), titled ‘What Show Business Can Show Business’ which looked at Hollywood as ‘a network of flexible businesses that get done in here-today-gone-tomorrow alliances’. It described how the business edge belonged to those who could bring together contractors in the most timely and efficient manner, partly because that this meant that each role could be staffed by the person best suited to it, rather than whoever happened to be available within the organisation.
My resulting essay (written thirteen years ago) concluded that ‘as the network economy develops in more conventional business sectors, I expect to see it becoming the norm’.
Anyone need a futurologist?
There’s something no-one told me about life as a Freelance Planner. You need to be a bit of a detective.
You’d be amazed how often I turn up at an agency to find that the person who booked me to come in and work on Client X isn’t there and has left no instructions for me.
Now if I was working in an agency full time that wouldn’t be a problem, I’d just move on to the next thing on my To Do list and leave emails, voicemails and post-its until whoever had a brief for me eventually turned up at my desk.
But when you’re freelance you tend to have a limited time frame in which to complete something and nothing else on your plate that day. So you have to get all Sherlock Holmes about it:
1) check if Key Contact is actually hiding somewhere in the building
2) ring Key Contact’s mobile and leave message
3) speak to Client X’s account director
4) get him/her to check with the rest of the Client X account handling team
5) ask the creative director
6) ask the people who sit near Key Contact’s desk in case they overheard something useful
7) start looking for Something Else To Do
My record for being in an agency and officially Briefless is 6 ½ hours. But by that time I’d written three promotional marketing briefs and a mini desk research report…
I’ve got a real soft spot for train travel.
A few hours of staring at the scenery flashing by is guaranteed to put me back on an even keel. Especially if the view is courtesy of Cross Country or East Coast trains (used to be GNER) just south of Edinburgh where East Coast means exactly that:
pic by EGFocus because I forgot to take one (CC applies)
At the same time, I can’t resist checking out my fellow passengers and trying to guess where they’re going to (or coming back from) and why. In such close proximity, you also tend to learn loads of interesting stuff just by overhearing, like:
- the pros and cons of university education in Edinburgh v. Glasgow
- why old ladies never go anywhere without a coat
- why working in Saudi Arabia isn’t very practical if you’ve got kids
It’s like a mini Interesting on rails.
Not only that, but chose a quiet enough train and you get a mobile desk all to yourself, complete with laptop power point (and distracting view) – but goodness knows what my fellow passengers made of all my flipcharts yesterday:
Anyway, long-ish distance train travel. Highly recommended. Just bring your own food.
Northern Planner posted today about work-life conflict. Can you be brilliant and awesome at something work-related while still having an actual life outside work? As he reasons in his post, ‘you can’t do interesting work if you don’t do interesting things’ (which to me is the whole point of the Interesting Un-Conferences).
A high profile in the marketing world seems to require working in the right city, drinking with the right people, speaking at the right conferences, changing jobs every couple of years and being active online – and that’s time consuming. Even a high profile within your own company might require you to drop everything and relocate to Nowheresville for two months, or to work all weekend prepping for a big meeting.
Some people chose not to play that game and to just get on with doing the best job they can in the chunk of 9to5 time they have allocated to it. They might not climb the corporate ladder quite as fast but their reward is time to do other stuff. I suppose it’s a question of motives. If you’re working all the hours because, say, you want to get a promotion that will provide better for your family, then I can understand prioritising work first. Or if you have such a fab job that work feels like playtime anyway, then go for it.
But for everyone else, I wonder what the end prize for all this workaholism is? If you ARE playing the star pupil game at work (i.e. high profile, stupid hours, stress-central) without knowing what the end prize actually is, perhaps its time for a rethink?
Since I got into this whole working-for-myself lark, the line between work and leisure has got rather blurred.
I now have the flexibility to, say, take Friday off to go and watch a horse show, then catch up with my invoicing on Saturday evening. The thing that worries me is that when I send out work emails late in the evening or over the weekend, I frequently get a reply straight back. The Blackberry (AKA Crackberry) has a lot to answer for. It’s starting to feel like I should only send emails during office hours to avoid interrupting Blackberry (or iphone) owners during their downtime.
Thanks to smart phones, wifi and 3G, its quite hard for agency staff to ever really be off duty. Unless you go on holiday to a mobile blackspot (I can recommend Runswick Bay), you are always On Call. It’s not just Planning or Account Handling either – I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard Creatives say that they’ll work on something over the weekend.
I was talking to a friend who is a vet recently and she was telling me how she could never really relax when she’s On Call overnight or at the weekend as she’s always on edge waiting for the phone to ring with a challenging emergency call out. The same must apply to an extent to agency types. If you’re constantly checking your email or never let your work mobile leave your side, surely you can never truly relax and rejuvenate, ready to face the challenges of the days ahead.
I really think we need to look at how the industry is increasingly demanding its employees to be ‘always on’. Especially as the online world demands marketing input outside the normal 9-5, there is going to have to be some kind of acknowledgement that the human brain needs a break occasionally.
Perhaps we should take a lead from my friend the vet’s employers and instigate a shift On Call system to make sure that those who aren’t on call can literally (as well as metaphorically) switch off.
- All marketing services companies and clients will stop work at 4pm every Wednesday to allow for a mid-week breather.
- All marketing trade magazines will include a ‘name and shame’ section citing bad pitch practice and unreasonable client demands.
- There will be a separate section in all the above magazines called ‘whoever thought that was a good idea?’ for agency management.
- The IPA, ISP, APG and MRS will all include free technical support as part of their membership fee.
- TGI will produce an easy to use, web-accessible, affordable version
- Mintel reports will refer to the last twelve months of activity in the category and not what happened two years ago.
- All agencies will produce a ‘freelancer information pack’, explaining how to log onto their wireless network, where the loos are, office coffee mug hierarchy and the location of the nearest sandwich shop.
- All agency, client and publisher accounts departments will pay their invoices within 30 days or see the total amount rise by 20% a week. ‘Loosing’ or otherwise mislaying the invoice in question will be no excuse.
My current agency have decided that they can manage perfectly well without an Account Planner in the future.
So I’m on the lookout for freelance or permanent Planning type roles in the Yorkshire area.
If you’re outside Yorkshire, need some Planning support and don’t mind it being mostly done remotely, I’d also love to hear from you.
Try the email address or LinkedIn on the right or gemma dot teed [at] hotmail dotcodotuk.
Summer is here and the annual exodus to the office’s lovely garden is in full swing.
Brainstorms, analysis sessions and even the odd client meeting are all being relocated outside. We haven’t quite reached a capacity crisis of towels-on-sun-loungers level yet, but it’s only a matter of time…
I’ve been thinking recently about balance. My normal stance on this subject is about trying not to compromise too much in life generally and very big on achieving work/life balance (which I’ve blogged about before here and here). I now find myself wondering how you can find balance in your job itself (whether or not you are a Planner or other agency type person).
John Steel spoke in his APG ‘Perfect Pitch’ speech in 2007 about the need to defend Thinking Time (even if that means booking in your diary a Very Important Meeting with Me, Myself & I). Getting a balance between Thinking and Doing is always going to be hard when deadlines are looming and requests are stacking up, but particularly for insight or strategy related work, the more time (within reason) spent on the Thinking bit, the better the likely outcome of the Doing.
There’s also a need to find a balance between the Stuff I Have To Do and Stuff I Want To Do, as well as Stuff I Hate, Stuff I Don’t Mind Doing and Stuff I Really Enjoy.
Succeeding in achieving this balance could in part be down to the instigation of a really good To Do List (or a really good PA for those of you higher up the organisational chart), but I suspect that achieving a good work/work balance might have more to do with the position of your specialism in your organisation, work load, company culture and, most importantly, the sheer bloody mindedness of the particular individual.