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IHAVEANIDEA.ORG > articles >  Swim: A Very Special Ask Jancy

Swim: A Very Special Ask Jancy

Posted on September 19, 2011 and read 3,523 times

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ignaciocreditpic Swim: A Very Special Ask JancyIgnacio Oreamuno

While we usually feature questions from IHAVEANIDEA readers around the world, this week IHAVEANIDEA President and Founder Ignacio Oreamuno has a few questions for Jancy.

At IHAVEANIDEA, we are always looking to better the future of the advertising industry, which is why we launched the category-less Tomorrow Awards, why we use the forward-thinking crowdsourcing approach of Giant Hydra, and why we try incessantly to link up-and-coming creative talent with a dream job through Portfolio Night and sage career advice like the “Ask Jancy” column.

Janet Kestin and Nancy Vonk have provided invaluable wisdom to international creatives for more than eight years now on topics ranging from how to get that perfect opportunity to how to keep it, and everything in between. Nancy and Janet also published Pick Me, giving creatives a tangible reference book of Jancy’s advice. The need to guide creatives on a professional journey is an important one, and as the industry evolves and grows, a need that is not always met. In the spirit of bettering the industry, a value that is of utmost importance to Janet, Nancy and Ignacio, IHAVEANIDEA presents a special edition of Ask Jancy and announcement from Janet and Nancy themselves.

Ignacio: It seems that the industry today is falling farther and farther behind in mentoring its creative talent. What is your experience in guiding the rising talent of tomorrow?

Jancy: We’ve spent a ton of our careers putting energy into developing young talent. We’d go so far as to say that we wouldn’t have the careers we’ve had without that interest.

It didn’t start as anything formal. Mostly, we had good relationships with people we worked with and if they asked for help, we gave it.  And discovered that we were good guides or passers-on of knowledge which we found strangely satisfying. Mentoring has been the through-line of our careers and also, the most fun part. It’s been pretty great to see former interns go on to hugely successful careers; many are creative directors now themselves.

In 2003 we started Ask Jancy on this site (and as our new junior art director, what choice did you have when we asked?). Partly as a lark, mostly because we could see all around us, people were kind of lost, at every level. No one had time to teach. CDs weren’t available. We thought that if CDs became accessible to those people in this context it could help a bit and we’d be able to feed our inner Ann Landers (for anyone old enough to remember her). We were deluged with questions from all over the world. It’s never stopped. Within a couple of years, it was the foundation for our Adweek book, Pick Me, now a staple in ad schools and source of massive income. We each got cheques for about $1.50 just the other day. It’s been translated to Turkish. “Beni Sec!” Say it with us.

We’ve taught and lectured in schools across North America; VCU Brandcenter, Creative Circus, San Francisco’s Academy of Art, MCAD, OCAD. We’ve created training for clients, and people outside the industry as well. We have a special interest in coaching women at both ends of the experience spectrum. We like reaching people through the media. Ad Persuasion, Talent Zoo, Report on Business Television and many more.

Ignacio: Where is the gap that is creating this space between senior creative experience and junior talent?

Jancy: The industry has always had a strong component of osmosis learning; there are huge lessons to be had – some of the most valuable ones, in fact – from simply being around great seniors and watching them work their magic. We always encouraged the newer hires to glom onto seniors; sometimes that was a formal arrangement, but more often an organic process. With every person in the creative department stretched thin now, a lot of senior people won’t make the time to narrate, or actively coach through a project. It’s easy to hand over busy work, to accept help from that extra pair of young hands and tell yourself you’re giving the newbies a chance to learn. But to thoughtfully instruct, and to take the time to really share insights is now a luxury that few senior people feel they can afford.

Meanwhile, for beginners, it’s more complex than ever to navigate the minefield of an industry that demands greater and broader skills in an increasing number of disciplines. Learning to develop great digital work, novel activation thinking and still-relevant ‘traditional’ skills means juniors really need coaching from many people, not just one mentor (and you’re lucky if you have even one).

Now, wonder where the soft skills learning will come from on top of that.  Juniors are given presentation skills training only rarely, and are often left out of the room for client presentations.  Seniors don’t do much better. Most everyone learns by trial and error. When creative departments were less stretched, there was a sort of chain of responsibility that existed: as people grew more senior, more successful, more trained, more and more people worked for them, so by the time they were at the top, they knew how to manage that talent. Today’s seniors are often poorly equipped to solve partner problems, conflict with management, direct others, or even take direction themselves. They don’t set stellar examples for juniors. The most obvious explanation is a lack of time for the personal growth of creatives, downgraded as a priority long ago. The downward spiral started in the early 90′s and has never recovered.

Ignacio: It seems to me there is also a growing need to create a better common ground between agency and client. Is this a left-brain, right-brain disconnect or an inevitable problem?

Jancy: Chances are there’ll never be a client-agency relationship that doesn’t have its share of drama and there’s no doubt left-brain, right-brain plays into it. We don’t speak the same language as our clients. It’s hard to agree on the goals. Finding common ground is the only solution. Creative people tend to fall into two categories where clients are concerned. Either they want to be friends with them or they don’t. Yet relationships have a huge amount to do with success and failure—and it’s not really about friendship. The more clients trust you, the more they like you and the more they like you the more they trust you. Which sounds trite and a bit chicken and egg. But in the way of clichés, there’s truth there.

Our best client relationships have been the result of work that succeeded, usually more than once. Once seems flukey.  But if you get it right a few times, everyone relaxes and a bit of faith sets in. That faith is the basis of a genuine liking based on respect that then permits greater and greater freedom where the work is concerned.

It’s tough for the creatives to invest in creating trust. And in finding a bit of humility in the process, not coming at it from the position that the client doesn’t get it. It’s equally tough for clients to allow creative guys the space they need to come up with the best possible answer and put their own preconceptions to one side. To see the work through an open mind, rather than holding a checklist. We believe these things can be learned, taught.

If the people on both sides of the equation were better equipped, the work would be better and the relationships would be better.  Disagreement wouldn’t equal insubordination or dictatorship. It would just be part of the process of getting to a stronger outcome.

Common ground requires a common language. It’s certainly part of Swim‘s ambition to try to develop that language.

Ignacio: What solution do you see to remedy these growing industry problems?

Jancy: A good start would be to re-prioritize training altogether. Plenty of training exists in the world, but we’ve developed a different model that’s aimed squarely at today’s leadership crisis.

If there’s one theme that runs through every part of the Swim program, it’s authenticity. In our opinion, it’s the key to success with clients, in partnerships and in the work itself. Yeah, ok, sounds like a buzzword, but we find it’s the difference between success and failure. Being truly one’s self is incredibly powerful, yet many are tripped up trying to emulate others. We have some interesting ways to get you back to you.

Swim was developed through a creative lens. The model is a combination of elements: creation, grounded in the most powerful lessons we’ve learned from others, mistakes galore, and mentoring countless creative people; and curation, a series of thoughtfully-chosen immersive experiences with extraordinary people in other creative fields. Actors, political speechwriters, inventors are the tip of an iceberg full of surprises for the participants.  We’re customizing content and there is individual coaching built in. Swim will be challenging, scary and fun. Training for marketers will also be novel and experiential, with a goal of helping them become creative problem solvers able to work better with their agencies.

Ignacio: That sounds amazing. Seems like there will be an influx of people wanting to dance with you.

Jancy: We certainly hope so. Before we decided to go ahead with Swim, we talked to a variety of industry people, agency-side and client. There was a lot of head-nodding around the fact that we’re up against a huge problem. This past spring, the dearth of training in adland was the hot topic at conference after conference. Headlines like “A barista gets more training than the average agency staffer” (Adweek, March ’11) are everywhere. Everyone agrees there’s a need. Developing talent is what we care about and we want to confront the crisis.

Ogilvy North America is our first big client, and we’re pleased North America CCO Steve Simpson sees us playing an important role in taking their creative talent to a whole new place. But one can never have too many dance partners. So while Ogilvy is first, they aren’t the only people who will take advantage of what Swim has to offer. Others are putting up their hands and we haven’t even opened our virtual doors yet. So far, so fantastic. We can’t wait to get started.

We at IHAVEANIDEA wish Janet and Nancy the best of luck with Swim!




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