As in life, in advertising the food chain is such that the strongest, most intelligent creatures are at the top. And as one moves further down the pyramid one encounters beings of varying strength and ability. As someone who has spent the better half of three years at the bottom of the food chain, I’d like to introduce you to the various individuals who had found a berth above me.
Now you’re probably wondering what exists at the bottom of an advertising food chain. Office peon? Canteen boy? Traffic controller? Wrong, wrong and wrong. I’m none of the above. For a year and a half I tried to get by the ignominy of being the agency’s junior copywriter.
That doesn’t sound so bad now does it? Everyone thinks copywriters have a great life. Lounging about on B&B Italia futons in minimalist “thinking” rooms, coming up with T.V commercials that Tarsem will make. As an idea strikes we furiously jab away at our I-books and then saunter off for a long cappuccino break. In reality, the JC is one step above the real dregs of advertising – interns. Beings that don’t even warrant an official ‘bottom of the food chain’ status. No, that wonderful title goes to the JC who bides time proofing battery care manuals and writing newsletters for The National Chicken Farmers Association. At least until the interns are promoted.
As a JC, the only people who know your name are other JCs. And the Canteen Boy. Created by Lucifer himself, canteen boys are usually village runaways who dream of making it big in the city. When their dreams don’t pan out they find themselves serving food to over-paid, failed literary geniuses and artists (copywriters and art directors). However they wield considerable power, and display this by deciding who gets tea last (usually the JC) and who is served what the stray dogs outside the agency refused to eat (ditto). This places them one step above the JC as everyone from the Chairman to the stray dogs outside the agency know the Canteen Boy’s name.
Art Directors & Copy Supervisors
Client Servicing and Interns
As you can see, Canteen Boys are preceded by the Peons. Men and women who are on Prozac for life thanks to the trauma of wearing a blue & blue uniform day in and day out. Unless smiled at or greeted on a daily basis, they’re likely to turn a deaf ear to cries for help when a rat has breathed its last in one’s desk drawer.
Next in line come those who were once at the bottom of the food chain, but managed to claw their way up. A ray of hope to every JC, Copy Sups have gotten ahead by sheer hard work, guts and the ability to forgive themselves for writing “Pickles that remind you of your mother”. Most Sups prefer to pretend they were born Sups as the trauma of remembering the past is too much. (The waiting list for lobotomies is littered with this breed)
Joining rank with the Copy Sup is the Art Director. Once a passionate painter or sculptor, the Art Director sold his/her soul to the Devil when they realised Commercial Artists didn’t need to wait for death to become famous. Art Directors get to have far more fun than their literary counterparts. While it is the writer that pens “Commercial opens on the palm fringed beaches of Hawaii”, it is the Art Director who gets to sip Pina Coladas in Waikiki and “supervise” the shoot. Bending over so that everyone gets a good look at their designer undies (and I’m talking about the men here), art directors can also be found snorting coke off agency briefs and telling clients that adding their logo to the layout would ruin its symmetry.
Apart from Sex Addicts Anonymous, an Art Director’s future lies in one place. The Creative Director’s Cabin. The CD is usually an Art Director / Copy Sup who has used up all his/her ideas and now gets paid a six figure salary to tell other people that their ideas are crap. The average CD spends this salary on expensive coffee table books (all on nude photography), overpriced watches that are hard to tell the time with and women (and sometimes men) who are magically transformed in to models after after-work “business meetings” in the conference room
While there are certain individuals in the agency who do not bow and scrape before the CD, it’s hard to find people who aren’t in awe of the Admin man. Ugly both on the outside and within, he can be found hovering near the late comers register (and you thought ad agencies were cool). With one eye on the door the other on the clock (being squint eyed is a must when applying for this post) they wait with malicious glee as one scrambles through the front door - breakfast in one hand, a pen in the other. And there they remain till the scraggler is .001 mm away from the register before snapping it shut and walking away with a sizeable portion of next months salary.
Sitting above this fiend of the netherworld, is a similar creature. The Managing Director. Advertising does it’s best to keep out the bad eggs, but every now and then one of them manages to get a foot through the front door. And once inside, they rise to the top by doing absolutely nothing. Unless chairing 3 hour meetings on cost cutting through reduced toilet paper purchase counts. Harbouring a secret desire to become a copywriter, the average MD can be as much a source of amusement as they are of anal pain. When one is spotted deep in thought (which is very rare) one can safely assume they’re either trying to come up with ideas or short-change everyone on their bonuses.
When in a non-pensive state of mind, MDs can be found not in their own cabin but in the Chairman’s, trying to sell the aforementioned ideas. Agency Chairmen were once idealistic creatives who promised themselves that good work would always come before money. In the pursuit of this dream, Chairmen think nothing of calling people at midnight wondering what poor woman had the misfortune of bearing such an untalented, useless writer as the one before him. As a JC one dreams of the day the Chairman will learn your name. One doesn’t dream of the string of expletives that are bound to follow it.
So there you have it - the agency food chain. Replete with carnivores, vegans and parasites, this ecosystem is as delicate as the egos that inhabit it. But unlike life, where algae and plankton have no way of making it to the top, in advertising the dregs are always given a chance. As someone who has gone from algae to a more redeemable life form, the transformation was one that took a considerable amount of time. But as you can see the company is anything but dull.
I haven’t mentioned anything about Client Servicing because the less said about the people who ask writers to make the line “Jump the queue” crisper, the better. They are perhaps the only class that even interns are allowed to sneer at.
To all my client servicing friends who read this, get a sense of humour. If that’s not possible - tough!!