Life after advertising
Every now and again a theme crops up in the industry press. The poor women of advertising! Over sexualised and underappreciated, driven bleating from agencies like lost sheep. While I’m the first person in line to fight gender bias, I can’t help feeling that maybe there’s more to it. Not to deny the ongoing battles against sexual harassment, the pay gap, gender discrimination, inadequate maternity policies, but to claim these are the only reasons women are leaving the industry feels a little reductive - and ever so slightly patronising.
Maybe women are also getting out because it’s just…not that great? Because once you’ve passed 30, the idea of working all night for thankless clients who treat you like crap isn’t actually that appealing?
Maybe women are the smart ones voting with their feet to escape a toxic industry based on exploitation and make-believe. Where clients rule and agencies increasingly do their bidding, no matter how badly they treat us. An overworked and overhyped business where so many people feel trapped. Arguably, if they choose to have a baby, women also have the chance to to take a step back (maternity leave ain’t a rest but it certainly is a change), get some perspective and consider something different.
I think I actually knew deep down it wasn’t for me from the start. There was always a niggle, a feeling I didn’t fit; too sensitive, too small, too outspoken and yes, too female. Not exactly your typical ‘suit’. But somehow I found myself swept along in the craziness; the highs, adrenalin, wild nights, glamour, unpredictability, the blood sweat & tears. And the laughs, so many many laughs. It hasn’t been all bad, there have been unforgettable experiences and undeniable privileges. But beneath the bantz and the bar tabs, something else inescapable has always left me cold.
Because ultimately it’s an industry that thrives on psychological manipulation to sell a feeling, an idea, an aspiration - one that feeds on human vulnerability (we like to call it ‘insight’) to sell more stuff. My low points included seeing two people raging and crying in the my client's office reception, a well known betting brand. They were the parents of a young suicide victim with huge gambling debts, and were looking for someone to blame. I picked up my stuff and went to a meeting to find out how to get people to feel more hypnotised by slot machines.
The more recent love in with ‘purpose-led’ comms helps a bit, but I can't completely buy it. It smacks of the industry trying to make itself feel better, so we can all sleep more at night. If we want to drive change, why not work in charity, education, medicine, government - using our skills to make a real impact on people’s lives. There is so much warmth, intelligence and talent that we can offer. But most of us are in too deep, too comfortable in our Maje parkas and Arigato trainers. So we’ll carry on pretending the advertising industry does good in some way. Thank god for that one-off PR stunt that magically solved London’s homelessness.
In the end I was constantly going against the grain of who I was, forcing myself well out of my comfort zone every single day. Which over time is exhausting and depressing. The Sunday scaries and insomnia got out of control and it was time to hit the eject button.
So now, after nearly 20 years of a pretty unhealthy relationship, advertising and I are finished. And it feels good. Some people asked 'how?' and it came down to 3 things, as all the best lists do.
Get help. Any life coach worth their salt will help you feel less lost, more in touch with who you are and figure out what you really want. Get your agency to pay for it - think of it as retribution for the late nights and toxic clients.
Get organised. Make a plan, stick to it - and save as much money as you can. What is your plan B? What/how long/how much do you need to make it happen? Map that shit out. Mine is a random hybrid of copywriting and working with SEN kids in a secondary school - keep an open mind.
Get fearless. Feel the risk and do it anyway. Your inner and outer critics will say you’re mad, because taking a leap frightens people or makes them jealous. Make a list of all the things you will gain (even if there is a financial loss) and look at it if you ever feel in doubt.
It can be miserable feeling trapped, but there is a way out and there is life after advertising. Good luck with the escape mission, whatever your reasons. 💪