On Fear and Why the Advertising Business Will Forever Suck

By Matt Van Hoven 

There’s a greater issue at play in the Faris Yakob departure story, and it’s worth a few words. The long term effect of a guy like Yakob walking away from a tailor made chief-level position at a Madison Ave. temple like McCann will have lasting effects. On the agency. It’s happened before and it’ll happen again. And look, I’m not saying he’s the Christ-child of modern planning &#151 but he does bring with him a certain cachet that McCann will have to pay a lot to replace. But who’s going to want the job?

Guys like Yakob get jobs at these big-name agencies because of who they are. It’s that artful, wild, Boguskian (I know, sorry) fairy dust that most of us wish we had and spend careers trying to emulate. Most of us never attain that ish because we spend our lives trying to be someone else. For all its attempts at originality, this business is most proficient at copying itself.

Not discounting talent here, but how many great talents do you know that haven’t made it in advertising? They’re mostly doing other things now.


This business has a habit of glomming on to people like Yakob and promising them freedom, accessibility, breathing room etc. That and a big paycheck are all they have to offer. Unfortunately, big shops simply aren’t capable of turning around &#151 feel free to prove me wrong on that. In Yakob’s case, he was probably offered something the agency never had in the first place, and it’s taken until now for him to realize it.

In the end big agencies are too risk-averse to make serious change. It’s the same fear that keeps multi-cultural marketing at bay, that puts a premium on creativity and calls digital agencies vendors. Fear of the unknown still rules, and it’s been doing so since the beginning of humanity, arguably. We’re all trying to survive.

If there’s one word that sums up the biggest lie in advertising, it’s collaboration. Each of you, of us, is just trying to make it. Some are doing a lot better than others, but the level of fear between the big and the small is equal &#151 like the positive side of two magnets, they’ll never truly come together. That’s because you fear the big guy’s power while he fears that you know something he doesn’t. For the lucky, there’s a big pay-out in exchange for what you appear to know. For your cachet, your ish, your “ness”.

Yet you’re inexorably tied to each other for survival. This is why closed-door meetings, password protected computers and pretty much every form of security exits. And the implications for advertising have been devastating.

There’s no harmonic, unified zen in this business &#151 it’s every man, woman and producer for himself. It doesn’t help that there’s such a premium on creativity &#151 talent, that is. It drives competition, but rarely in a healthy manner. Example: CP+B is known for pushing high-ranking people out by hiring candidates and giving them the same title as the existing employee but giving the newb more responsibility. Another case-in-point, McCann hiring Yakob. That guy had no business in the agency &#151 as one insider put it, “he was a free spirit in a corporate cage.” Though “free spirit” is a lofty phrase for something positive, that doesn’t really matter here. Yes, Yakob and McCann had similar goals, but their differences lie in the paths they took to reach them.

Sometimes you need a little crazy. And kudos to McCann for finding someone crazy enough to take the job. But their real problem is fear &#151 of the unknown, of what might happen, of how they will survive in this dark uncharted territory. They looked to Yakob for clairvoyance in the planning realm and didn’t like what the future he saw looked like. Or something like that.

This isn’t the first time you’ve heard that story. It happens in most agencies every day. I’m frighteningly un-optimistic that the mindset will change, because our need to survive will always be the priority. The best solution I can imagine would be a world where the small agencies do more to empower their younger employees. It’s gotta be hard for a big shop to trust its youth, so we’ll leave it to the Campfires, the Toys, the HUGEs, the HappyCorps, the MR YOUTHs, the Carrot Creatives, the People Ideas & Cultures (help us list in the comments) to foster a sense of community. There are many more, and though I’m cautiously optimistic at best, I won’t be the one to say it isn’t possible. But as an industry, you’ll probably never get there.