Nancy Vonk on The Agency Training Problem

Budget cuts, time constraints are contributing factors

Nancy Vonk and Janet Kestin have discussed launching a training consultancy geared toward creative staffers for months since a lack of training has plagued the industry for years. The duo, who've been creative partners since 1991 and co-chief creative officers of Ogilvy & Mather Toronto since 1998, will market their consultancy, Swim, primarily to agencies, with Ogilvy signing on as their first client. In an interview with Adweek, Volk explained why the industry has lost its way when it comes to nurturing talent and how she'll incorporate leaders from other industries in the new practice.

What does it say about this problem that you're going outside of an agency to try to solve it?

Well, I guess that it's a big problem. It's a chronic, long-festering problem. Even we, doing our jobs as creative directors, have not tackled it in a way that we would like because we, like so many people, have been so stretched in putting out the fires right in front of us, while things like developing people has really turned into, "Well, I hope osmosis works."

Part of the rationale for the cutback in training has been: "It costs money. We can't afford it. Something has to go." So, what makes you think agencies will spend money on this, even if it's outsourced?

It's a really good and obvious question. I guess it remains to be seen. First of all we hope it's something that people will really line up to want, as opposed to training that you're kind of dragged to. There are a lot of training programs out there, and we have kind of unique credentials to put forward our version of it. And we're trying to make the whole model something that is actually really challenging, really enjoyable, and as unique as we can make it. We're going to be definitely tapping people from other creative industries to provide some content.  

How will Swim work?

We're going to work with agencies in groups of 10. We want a number that we can give individual attention to. So, we're going through agencies. We're also going to end up working with marketers. We aren't doing that straightaway. We kind of have our immediate group in front of us who are all agency creatives. But we are going to pretty quickly start to include marketers and even other groups outside advertising. A lot of what we're talking about is relevant to others. We've already had a call from a lawyer, saying, "I have eight people I need you to work with, immediately."

What types of industries will you draw from for outside help?

We're actually going to have workshops through some people, and we're going to start this thing called, "Dinner With." And nobody is going to know what they're walking into. We think the element of surprise is going to be important. We're going to be crossing paths with actors, inventors, and political speech writers. So, people who have both relevant lessons plus inspiration. 

If the training and nurturing problem is so readily apparent, why do agencies continue to give this short shrift?

Budgets are a really fundamental issue. Training is often the first to go. A lot of trainers we've talked to said, "Wait until you see how fast they cancel on you for any financial stress at all." And time. Literally people are too caught up in the immediate concerns. They're not thinking big picture as much as they should. Again, we've been as guilty of that as much as anyone else. Everybody is running lean. That's another factor. It's like, "Training—really?" That's another challenge, quite frankly. Will people make the time? You have to block off some days on the calendar and that's always a hard thing to do. I think we are at a tipping point, though. The timing is really right for this.