A series of articles by Ignacio Oreamuno, Executive Director of the Art Directors Club, and partner of iStock, a specialist in crowd-sourced royalty free stock images.

Ignacio Oreamuno

It’s embarrassing to admit that advertising agencies spend less money on training, career advancement and professional development than any other industry. It’s a fact. And guys, going to conferences and award shows to get drunk does not count!

What kind of world would we be living in if doctors, lawyers, engineers, architects and pilots did not retrain yearly? We wouldn’t be so comfortable getting surgery, flying on a plane or dropping half a million in a house.

I’ll make this argument in a very simple manner.

I played the piano for many years. I had an instructor who taught me the basics for about two years. Then I got bored with classes, thought that I was Mozart and could do it on my own and played and practiced a lot, some days up to 8 hours. I eventually had bands and even played in small school concerts. After a few years, I was still stuck. I used the same scales, techniques, tempos, and even though I had composed music, I reached a wall. Soon after this, I got demotivated and stopped playing.

This is exactly what we’re doing. Our work, alone, does not train us. Although we spend all day and sometimes all night working in advertising, our creating of campaigns does not teach us new skills. Yes, advertising brings new challenges every day, yet, when it comes down to it, what you know about photography, typography, color and design does not magically increase each time you do a new project. On the contrary, you fall back on what you know because timelines are tight and the pressure is high. The best example of this is when you fall back on a typeface that you always use, a color combination that you know works, or a visual effect that you’ve played around with in the past.

Agencies should be spending ample amounts of their budgets investing in programs to help their creatives get better at craft. Here are a couple of tips for heads of agencies:

(1) Dedicate real time for craft.

Many agencies think that they are creative by inviting a speaker or two, once a month, to speak while they serve pizza. Yes, that is nice, but it is not enough. To learn craft and, more importantly, to teach craft, you need more than one hour and to allow time for practice because we are all creatives and we have the attention span of a cricket and we only learn by doing, not hearing. I suggest your inviting a master craftsman (for example, a typographer) to come and teach typography skills. All you need is a boardroom and some computers. You don’t even need a whole deep curriculum: simply take a print ad that the agency did in past months; provide the master and art directors with the source files of the ad, so they may play around with the type. I think you will be pleasantly surprised at what the “typemaster” can do. Moreover, the team will enjoy competing with each other to come up with a better typographic style for this print ad.

(2) Spend agency money teaching art.

In 1920, ADC was founded on the belief that the ads should be treated like fine art. This concept applies today and is an opportunity for your employees to learn back skills that may be applied to advertising. No matter the size of your city, I guarantee that you will find amazing art classes. It does not matter if it is pottery, watercolor painting, papier-mâché or photography. Any lesson will be an amazing investment for your teams. They will come back inspired, in love with their profession again, and indirectly apply their new skills to that precious campaign that you are working toward. There’s a reason why they say that all inspiration in advertising is stolen from art.

(3) Become a “university agency.”

My first and only agency was Ogilvy, a place known to be a university agency. It just means that seniors are taught, encouraged and expected to dedicate paid hours helping and teaching juniors. I learned enumerable tricks of the trade by seniors who would come to my desk, get on my computer and, literally, show me simple techniques that my junior brain absorbed like a sponge—from how to properly use and edit photography for a billboard to how to properly kern a headline. Senior staff is only going to behave like this if top management sets an agency culture and parameter that encourage this.

Investing in craft is not a luxury. It is the basic maintenance that your agency should be doing. Remember how important it was to change the oil on your crappy old first car? Same thing.

Stay inspired to keep the craft alive.

Click here to see more inspiration.


Ignacio Oreamuno is Executive Director of the Art Directors Club, founder of IHAVEANIDEA and international Portfolio Night innovator. Previously named one of Marketing Magazine’s “Ones to Watch Under 30,” he went on to launch two new initiatives: the Tomorrow Awards, an international award show without categories, exclusively focused on teaching and learning; and Giant Hydra, a first-of-its-kind mass collaboration creative tool for agencies. Having lived in ten countries throughout his life, Ignacio is a truly global creative who is set on enriching the industry that he loves so much. Ignacio is a partner in iStock (www.istockphoto.com).