Why Young Creatives Need CCO Mentorship More Than Ever

Offering our time brings back the fun that our industry is built on

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No matter how many hours I spend on TikTok and Instagram, or how young I feel compared to my peers, there’s always some word or concept that the algorithm appropriately doesn’t serve me. This is when I realize what the algorithm already knows: I am old AF. (Do people still say AF?)

OK, 45 is not old for most industries, but for advertising it is. About two-thirds of individuals in advertising, public relations and related services are under 45 years of age, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. I am now—as of last year—in that remaining 33%, and once again outing myself as old AF because I just quoted the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

As a CCO, it’s so important to connect with culture and remain on the bleeding edge of culture. So it’s in my best interest to make sure I spend as much time as possible learning from the next generation of creative leaders. Luckily, I have experience to barter—I know they need mentoring now more than ever, coming out of the pandemic. They need a connection to CCOs, and CCOs, well, we need them too.

When I was starting out, things were a bit more forgiving. I had less work and more time to complete it; basically, I had time to mess up and recover without slowing the whole team down. Today, we ask a lot of the younger folks, and as a result it’s harder for them to truly shine. To combat this, we created a program at Havas Group called Charlie.

Charlie—short for Charles Louis Havas, the French entrepreneur who started our company more than 180 years ago—consists of a group of creatives from the associate creative director level and below who are mentored by two executive creative directors and myself. They get to define and build their own culture and work on creative briefs no one else in the agency gets, essentially acting as a mini-agency within the agency.

The group regularly meets for coaching, community building, briefings and casual socializing. One of the most notable works that came from Charlie is “The Issue Within the Issue” in partnership with The Ali Forney Center and New York Magazine.

So what else can we offer? Our time.

Yes. Maybe CCOs were too busy for young talent in the past, but that doesn’t mean we can afford to be too busy for them now. We have an opportunity to repair the damage that was done by the pandemic. For three years, our industry was purely transactional, especially if you were a junior. As CCOs, we need to be available: on Slack, email, Zoom or in person. Available to answer three years’ worth of questions that don’t necessarily come up in creative reviews.

What else can we do? Bring back the fun.

We need to show the young folks that our industry can be, and always was, a lot of fun. It’s hard work, it’s long hours, it’s heartbreaking disappointment, but it should also be a good time.

It’s important that we cultivate a fun hybrid work environment where the younger creatives can interact with each other live and in person. I’m not saying fun isn’t making great work and getting paid well for it—there’s no denying those are critical factors—however, we underestimate the power of personal connections.

We, as an industry, have the best people. Yes, I said it. We have a collection of brilliant, socially aware, one-of-a-kind individuals who, at the end of the day, really care. And when these people come together and form relationships with like-minded souls, great things happen. Some of my best friends are people I met in the industry when I was younger.

Without these connections, the other critical stuff doesn’t happen. In our business, you get knocked down 99 times and have to get up 100—only then can you end up on set in Bora Bora with Beyoncé, making work that culture will love, brands will benefit from and agencies will reward you handsomely for. Without coworkers you consider friends to complain to, and ones who inspire you, you’ll never stay the course. So as a CCO, I encourage newer employees to come into the office as much as they can to make those lasting human connections. These relationships make our tough jobs fun, and fun is the fuel that keeps us going.

Now, what can the next generation offer us CCOs? As mentioned, they keep us looped in. They feed us the latest trends to help alter our social media algorithms. They also remind us to stay scrappy. Growing up with phones in their hands and computers they didn’t have to share with half a dorm, they learned to edit, design, animate and digitally compose music. They’re part investigative journalists, part researchers and part makers. They do not define themselves strictly as those who can write a headline or those who can lay one out.

I find this refreshing and encouraging. And they remind us that we’re never too busy to champion causes we care about. I love how committed this generation is to making work that creates social change—I make sure I’m available to hear ideas about the issues we struggle with outside of the office.

The best creatives, no matter what age they are, have a curiosity that drives them to seek out the new and the interesting. This generation is no different. They’re just able to apply those learnings to work without relying on an abundance of resources for help. This generation can pay back the extra mentorship us older folk are giving them—and just might keep us employed when they’re the ones running the agencies.