Where Have All the Mentors Gone?

I've mentioned finding a mentor before. Here's a related article I wanted to share.
Do you have a mentor?
Do you feel supported and encouraged?

From Applied Arts Mag

Where Have All the Mentors Gone?

By Suzanne Pope

Without anyone to look after the next generation of ad people, they are doomed to roam agency halls like feral children, all wild eyes and matted hair

When I was a little girl, my father worked in the creative department of Ronalds-Reynolds, a Toronto ad agency that has long since disappeared in the fog of a global merger. He was copywriter and AD on retail ads for clients such as Toyota, Goodyear, Timex and Air Canada.

I remember standing at a distance and watching him as he worked at home in the evenings. He would apply LePage’s Rubber Cement with a brush to the backs of his linears of Corollas and Coronas, and then stick them into his layout amid the greeked-in copy and price points. I thought that was pretty cool but, really, it was nothing. The big moment would come a couple of days later when the ad appeared in the newspaper. Somehow, on my father’s say-so, all those scribbles and greek price points became real typography and photography in a full page of professional salesmanship. I would open the paper and, for a moment, forget to breathe. Something of great import occurred to me, something along the lines of: Behold the power of the advertising man.

I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but this was a Teaching Moment—a moment of mentorship that was natural and effortless for student and teacher.

It’s fitting that this memory is four decades old, because real mentorship in our business is also a distant memory. Ogilvy & Mather was once legendary for its Magic Lantern training modules. By the time I started working there, in 1993, no one could remember where they were stored. And today? Interns and juniors roam agency halls like feral children, all wild eyes and matted hair, grabbing bagels off boardroom tables and retreating fearfully to their corners to gnaw.

Who is looking out for this next generation of ad people? And, more to the point, why does almost nobody care? Seriously, we can talk about this. It’s just you, me and this copy of Applied Arts Magazine, which probably isn’t yours anyway. Let’s talk about all the reasons we drop young people in the middle of the ocean and feel oddly ambivalent when they manage to make it back to shore.

“We have no money for training.” Maybe not. But I’m pretty sure you have senior creatives, people who know how to convey meaning in just a few well-chosen words. Years ago, I reported to the brilliant copywriter Gary Lennox. At the time, we were both working at SMW, another Toronto agency that has long since disappeared. I had just finished writing a radio “donut,” which is a changeable piece of announcer copy that gets dropped into an existing radio spot. Gary didn’t trouble himself with giving me a lengthy critique of my script. He didn’t need to. He just grunted and said, “Your donut is turning into a Bundt cake.” I don’t think there’s any training program in the world that could stay with me longer than those eight words have.

“Why should I train people who are just going to leave and take that knowledge to my competition?” Oh, dear. Imagine if we applied that thinking to our personal lives. I’d treat you more considerately, darling, but let’s face it: That boost in self-esteem is only going to attract your next lover sooner. Yes, talented juniors eventually leave you, and it’s disappointing when they do. But while you have them, you will want the best they can give. And it may be that your loyalty to them will make them a bit more loyal to you.

“Yeah, well, I’ve got my own work and career to think about.” I’m glad you’re so frank about that, because it brings us to the most humbling truth of all. For generations, advertising mentorship was kind of a one-way street. Sure, the mentor would get warm feelings and good karma, but the practical teachings all went from the older to the younger. This, as you might have noticed, has changed. Nobody really knows what an ad is anymore. Nobody. I see brilliant things in portfolios, and I’m not sure what to call them. But they attract my attention and involve me in a message, and so I must call them ads. There’s no way for most of us to mimic that thinking. Spending 10 hours a day on 4chan won’t help. I know this because I’ve tried.

Enter those whom we’re forcing to be self-taught. They cannot remember a time before illegal downloads and Subservient Chicken. Calling these people digital natives does not begin to explain advertising’s new authorial voice. It would be like trying to explain Hemingway by pointing to his typewriter. This new voice would never waste its time on anything as inefficient as an essay. Instead, it commonly posts a few words in all-caps Impact Outline as a caption to the meme of the moment. Thus, it manages to distill complex feelings to a single small image file. If young ad people are that concise with their deepest emotions, can we really expect them to be more loquacious when it comes to selling tires?

We can still show juniors how to make ideas simple and crisp—and, indeed, we must do this. However, when it comes to knowing where to take those ideas, we’re going to have to ask for help. And if we ask politely enough, the juniors in our midst just might be willing to take us on as their apprentices.

Freelance copywriter and creative director Suzanne Pope is the founder of AdTeachings.com, a Website devoted to the training of young creatives.

This column appeared orginaly in the March/April 2012 issue of Applied Arts Magazine. To subscribe, click here.