Fast Chat: 4A’s CEO Nancy Hill

On the slash generation, reluctant females and inevitable tax reform

Advertising Week is a time for those in the industry to ponder the challenges and changes facing the communications world—kind of like what 4A's president and CEO Nancy Hill does every week of the year. As New York City gears up for more than 200 Advertising Week events, Hill spoke to Adweek about shifts in the hiring scene.

Adweek: Does this industry still hold the same appeal in attracting young talent?

Before there were the various career options we have now, we were a very attractive business for someone with a creative leaning. But now we’ve got so much more competition from creative environments that are business driven. You’ve got things like Google and Facebook and others out there, so I think we’ve become buried in those other options when it comes to young talent. As an industry, we have to do a much better job in promoting our industry as a career option.

The 4A's is trying to do that, having been a major force behind the creation of The High School for Innovation in Advertising and Media in Brooklyn, the first of its kind.

When you talk to those kids, they know advertising, but they don’t think about it as a career. That runs the gamut. They could be doing music scoring for advertising, they could be solving business problems, they could work on Fendi and, believe me, they know those high-end brands. But they don’t ever consider that this is something they could do for a living. I’m not sure why that is. Even for me growing up, I never thought of advertising as a career. I just sort of fell into it. To me, Darrin Stephens (the ad exec character in TV’s Bewitched) was fiction, so it never dawned on me that it was an actual job.

Are agencies doing enough to cultivate and grow talent?

There are some major generational differences. Whereas our generation really craved training in a formal way, this generation wants more experiences. I call them the slash generation because if you ask them "What do you do?" they might answer something like this: "I’m an account executive at Ogilvy, but I write a fashion blog and I’m a DJ on weekends and, oh by the way, I cater parties." This is how they define themselves. If you had asked me the same question at that age,  I would have just said, "I’m an account executive at an advertising agency." There was no slash, slash, slash. So as an industry, we have to be much better at recognizing that this generation wants a collection of experiences. We can’t just give them the tedious and menial work that we all started with as entry-level people and expect they’re going to toil away at that while they’re being trained. That’s not the way they see things. For them, it’s "Give me more responsibility. I see myself as an entrepreneur, so I will take this on and get it done." That’s going to require a mind shift in the culture of the agencies in order to facilitate the growth of these kids.

You recently posted an open letter expressing frustration over the lack of response from women who you’ve tried to get involved in 4A's events. What kind of response?

It’s been overwhelming. We’ve had people saying, "I want to raise my hand," which is gratifying and exactly what I was hoping for. But since I posted that letter, I’ve talked to a lot of women, and their reluctance is a combination of things. Beyond just being a breadwinner, women are tasked with taking care of family, so for many of them making a choice to travel to a 2-3 day conference versus taking care of their kids is a conscious choice they make very differently from the way a man might make it because a man says to himself:  "My wife is at home; she can take care of it." That’s a different struggle and certainly not something where I would say you’re making the wrong choice because that’s not true. The way we’ve been raised as women in business is that you have to make the right choice for yourself.

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