How to keep talented creatives at your shitty agency: An interview with Murat Mutlu on that article.
In September last year Murat Mutlu took a deep breath and published an article entitled “Why talented creatives are leaving your shitty agency”. It was widely (if covertly) shared and drew strong responses from all sides. It’s rare that any online content has a shelf-life longer than a week, so I’ve been surprised how many times this piece is still referenced and discussed today - a full SIX MONTHS later! Murat kindly agreed to an interview about the piece, so I could ask him more about the real impact and whether he’ll ever work in the creative industry again. (Spoiler: He will, it's ok. Don't worry).
Camilla’s Store: How did you feel after you hit "post" on your article "Why talented creatives are leaving your shitty agency"?
Murat Mutlu: It's always exciting to write something that generates discussion and gets passed about. Initially I was just relieved that it finally got posted, it had been sat in my drafts for weeks while I was trying to finish it off and I could never find the time.
I posted it on a Monday morning and it got a few thousand views by the end of the day so nothing crazy. Then I woke up the next day and it had over 70,000 views, at that point it just snowballed to 250k a week later, I was getting so many tweets and emails my phone was going off every few seconds.
I got around 50 'thank you' emails from junior creatives all the way up to senior execs at agencies and tech companies. Many said they wanted to say the same thing but couldn't due to their current situation.
It was great to be able to write the post without worrying about being sacked!
CS: Did you expect such an intense response? If not, what surprised you about it?
MM: I ran it past a few friends at various levels within agencies just to see what they thought prior to posting. I remember one comment in particular which was "Hope you're ready to never work in the industry again, cos no one is hiring you after this" so I knew it was going to hit a few nerves!
A week or so later I got asked to go into 3 different global agencies to speak to execs and CEOs, who admitted to me they knew things were going to shit and wanted to make changes. Had some really honest and open conversations with them, it was mad to hear it first hand.
The biggest surprise was finding that so many people shared the same feeling, not just in London but around the world. When I started getting texts from mates in other countries saying it was being passed around their office (often on the sly) and applauded it dawned on me what a state things are in.
CS: Your article brought new and contradictory voices to the piece via the comments section - did they change or confirm your thinking?
MM: They just confirmed what I already knew. Nothing was really going to change my mind anyway! I wrote that post true and honest from my own experiences.
It seemed like the majority of people disagreeing weren't the people who do the design or creative work so how can they really relate? You're the Head of Marketing and telling me what work I should find fulfilling? Fuck no.
But opposing opinions is what it's all about, the whole point was to get people talking and see if it was just me and my friends or a bigger problem.
CS: Many of the negative comments use the term "children", and you cite the Digiday article on Millennials. To what degree do you think generational expectations are driving this ennui?
MM: That always winds me up. Just throwing in the 'spoilt Millennials' argument whenever someone brings up problems with the industry just shows the narrow minded attitude that got us here in the first place.
I keep hearing that younger staff need to 'pay their dues' but that's bullshit. Just because they had to move up the chain by doing tons of pointless projects in shitty work environments doesn't mean anyone else has to. I envy anyone that got to the point I'm at right now (funded startup) in less time.
I spoke to a couple of agency owners after that post and they admitted to me that they were terrified of how fast things were moving in tech and design and didn't know how to keep up. Because of the lack of desire to embrace the change, everything in their eyes becomes a risk.
Whereas you have younger talented creatives coming up who don't have that fear, all the new stuff is a playground of opportunity that needs to be explored, tinkered with and broken.
So you have management holding back while the staff are trying to push forward, eventually you end up with zero job satisfaction because nothing you do is ever a challenge.
CS: Given that all jobs have their downsides, why do you think start-ups are perceived as "cooler" than agencies?
MM: Probably because the work isn't done to serve the needs of some faceless brand (or agency) you don't care about. Although the perception of advertising and digital marketing isn't that cool anyway.
It helps that startups are creating the interfaces you use and interact with on a daily basis. Little teams in San Francisco are creating services that influence the behaviour of millions of people, wanting to be part of that movement is incredibly exciting.
But if you strip it down to its most basic level, it's about building stuff with purpose and solving problems. The feeling of making products that people use everyday is pretty awesome and rarely achievable at agencies. Startups offer that in abundance.
CS: What role do clients have in all this? How could we manage them better?
MM: I wrote a slightly more optimistic post a couple of years ago about the state of the industry where I called out clients for being just as shit as the agencies doing the work.
"The sad truth is that if you’re expecting a client to drop a brief and a lump of cash in your hand that sparks off The Next Big Thing™ then you’ll be waiting a long time. It’s rare to see a ‘big idea’ digital or mobile brief from a client that isn’t suffocated by its own bullshit.
Instead of spending the time to create a 50 page deck containing arrows and buzzwords, why doesn’t the client ever take the time to step back and think ‘Who the fuck is going to do this and why?’
Brands need to realise that the available hours and minutes of the people they are trying to reach are being eaten up by Facebook, IM, Twitter, Foursquare, Angry Birds and browsing the web. What makes them think that people are going to spend time interacting with yet another augmented reality app for any longer than a couple of minutes before getting back to flinging birds and reading tweets?"
Clients need to be more bold. It seems like they are so shit scared to do anything daring and rock the boat.
When it comes down to it, the client is always going to play it safe. No one ever gets sacked for doing that.
I've been at global agencies working on briefs where every single person in the team knew that it was a joke and would flop soon as it was built. Is that enough to stop everything and try and push something else that might work better? No, of course not. Time is money, the quicker the shitty project gets out the door the quicker another comes in.
I wish clients would just be more experimental. Instead of blowing £70k on apps that no one uses, use that money to build 6 or 7 great prototypes and put them out there to see what sticks.
CS: If you could wave a magic wand and change one thing about how agencies operate, what would it be? And what impact would it have on the people you talked to for your post?
MM: To stop being driven by hitting financial targets and do it for the love of the work. Don't comprise quality for the sake of money.