Art & Commerce: Generation X’d Out

As advertising loses talent to other industries, Donny Deutsch has a suggestion: Fork over the dough
NINETEEN SEVENTY-NINE. Disco was waning, and I was about to graduate college (Wharton undergrad at the University of Pennsylvania). A tough year for me all the way around.
What I didn’t realize at the time was that a snapshot of the Wharton undergraduate and graduate classes of ’79 would be a harbinger of an advertising industry crisis to come two decades later. Stay with me here a second. Out of hundreds of Wharton grads that year, literally three, count ’em three, ventured into the profession of Bill Bernbach. Considering I was one, otherwise known as “The Wharton Village Idiot,” you basically had two legitimate graduates out of 500. The rest found their way to the obvious bastions of capitalism–Wall Street, consultants, etc., etc.
The reason? The Ogilvys and Greys of the world were starting folks at $25,000 a year; the banks, $85,000 base, plus perks and bonuses. Now, 20 years later, agencies wrestle with succession plans, and agency heads cry, “There’s no talent out there. We can’t find the next generation. There’s no up-and-coming management talent!”
Duh! The sad reality is, there’s a huge dearth of talent in the emerging top-level account side and no wealth of emerging business leaders to take our industry into the millennium. I’ve heard this time and again from agency heads. An interesting exercise is to go through the top 50 agencies and see if the next generation of leaders is clearly identifiable. In most cases, it’s not. Quite different from many other industries, where management succession is not only more in evidence, it is, in fact, a mandate.
This is not to say there aren’t any up-and-comers. Fact is, there are. Just way too few. As we continue to fuel our agency’s growth and look to add a few new, key athletes to what I feel is one of the deepest management benches in the business, the pickins aren’t what they should be.
Interestingly, the industry’s overall inferiority complex and need to remoniker agency labels are clearly results of losing an entire generation of management talent to those consultant and banking barbarians at the gate. With the proper talent coming through the ranks, I don’t think we’d be wasting energy on whether we’re called vendors, partners, consultants, communications astronauts or what have you. I’ve never heard anyone from Goldman Sachs give a crap what they’re called. They make too much damn money to worry about it.
The solution? Frankly, there is no solution for today–our advertising forefathers have left us this vacuum.
For tomorrow, we as an industry must step up to the plate. If the best young Wharton (or whatever) minds command a starting clip of $200,000, and that’s what the market bears, we must bite the bullet. We owe it to our advertising children. Of course, that would throw entire agency compensation scales at all levels into a new stratosphere. Only thing is, we would then need to start charging our clients investment-bank-type fees to pay for them.