Matchstick houses

I had an ice cream workshop last week where we were coming up with “on brand ice cream flavors.” As a part of the day, we brought in a creative who hasn’t worked on the account before to be a fresh pair of eyes. Luck of the draw landed us with Rob Messeter from our London office who has done some great work for Marmite and Harvey Nichols. It really was a fortunate addition and when he finally landed we went to Dar Poeta for pizza in Rome. It was delicious – finally I’ve had a meal in Rome worth remembering.


Not only is Rob handsome (check out those curls and blue eyes, single ladies!) he’s also smart and we had a great discussion about creatives and a little about planning. I’ve been interested for a while in the topic of women and planning, which ones make it to the top, will I have to go freelance or have a home hubby if I want to have kids, all that. And the survey can only tell you so much. But you see even fewer women in the creative department and on an account targeting women we’ve struggled to get a few gals to concept on various projects. So I asked Rob his take.

More than the endless hours and crap pay, he thinks it’s the unrelenting years of being told your ideas aren’t good enough that keep the ladies out of the business. He described a CD he knew who did a workshop for clients. Over the weekend before the workshop, the participants were asked to create models of their homes out of matchsticks. Each person put a great deal of effort in and on Monday morning, they presented their intricate creations. He complimented the effort then took a closer look at one and said this house is like the work creatives present. Then he smashed it with his foot and said that’s how creatives feel when you criticize their work.

Now, I know I don’t have the kind of skin thickness it takes to suffer through that feeling day after day. And Rob said that’s really what it feels like and then you toughen up. He and his partner presented 50 print ad ideas for VW recently to their CD, and so did several other teams. One is being produced – theirs – but still there are 49 ideas of theirs that aren’t. And days that the other guys will never get back with nothing to show for it this time. Then there’s the pressure to keep getting awards just to keep your job.

Back to the girls, there has to be some reason there aren’t more of them in the creative department. Mother even actively recruits female creatives aiming for 50/50. I can’t imagine what that’s like because most places I’ve been have had, I believe, a max of 3 women in the creative department – that was Martin. Mullen had two when I was there, DDB Amsterdam has zero right now, Tribal Amsterdam has one (who just won the Grand Prix at Cannes – congrats Mariota Essery!) I’ve always thought it was the long trips for production – you can’t go AWOL for two weeks or a month and raise a kid – which is even harder than the travel planners endure as we’re rarely (ever?) on that long of a trip. Rob says it’s about being smart enough to want more in life than criticism. He’s honestly not sexist so no attacking him. What do you think?

6 thoughts on “Matchstick houses

  1. i like his beard.

    also, what’s this about mother having 50% female creatives? maybe its a new thing but i only remember there being dudes.

  2. I remember one of my first creative directors telling me in a review (it was my third week at the job and my partner was home sick) that my ideas were so cliché I should work with coming up with stock imagery.

    However, I think it really depends on your CD and the way he or she gives feedback. I’ve come out of unsuccesful reviews feeling inspired and I’ve come out of reviews were I sold it all in but still felt like a piece of shit.

    My humble opinion on the matter is that women shun the creative area mainly because of two reasons.

    One is that they think they ought to do something more “serious”. For whatever different reason it seems like women end up taking care of and organizing boys’ play all the time, from cleaning up after male colleagues to, as in my elementary school, being placed as the only girl at a table of boys to keep them calm. When in advertising it seems like they tend to do the same thing: plan the projects while the men play with their creative ideas. (Not saying that creative work is all play, but you get my point.)

    The other reason, I think, is that it’s a business dominated by men and I think that people in general favour those of their own kind whether they mean to or not.

  3. 1) Excessive overtime. I often think women are better at getting their work done within a 9-5 structure and don’t see the need to fiddle around after work hours with things they could have productively done during the day. Women are organized.

    2) Boy’s club. Not all of us women want to bond over seven pints after work. Getting trashed after a hard day is not everyone’s cup of tea, and often if you stay away from these corporate bonding sessions you get left out in the cold.

    3) Women creatives often leave the bullshit of advertising to have a more artistic career when they get sick of the rat race. I think it is probably more acceptable in society still for a woman to go off and say she wants more work/life balance and become, say a painter, than a man to do this (prior to having children).

    4) Children. Sorry, but until men pick up exactly 50% of the slack and corporations make more flexible working schedules for both parents, women will do most of the work and their careers will suffer.

    5) Pay. This is a double edged sword. Women are less likely to ask for a raise than men (proven) and then whine at the end of the day when they are paid less than male counterparts. OR the company they work for are a bunch of douchebags who still pay the women on the team less for comparative work. STILL HAPPENING.

    6) Women creatives might not like the whole “lets step on each other and backstab until we get to the top” power-hungry struggle that men seem to do so effortlessly. There are more emotions involved and most women I know would let something roll rather than hurt someone to get to the top.

    7) We still live in a world with a lot of male pigs working as creative directors. Yes, there is a surge of nice guys out there. But how many times does your creative director have to try and get down your pants, while acting like a drunk slobbering mess at Cannes, before he realizes you are an actual talented being trying to prove yourself without sleeping your way to the top?

    8) Not as many women go into the sales side of things? I think in my ad school we had 10% women? Most of them were in planning like it was mentioned above.

    9) They have a life. They want to go home, to the gym, to a class, to cook, to hang out with girlfriends and to generally do something else than bond over stale pizza with only people from work.

    10) Some other reason we don’t know.

  4. Good points, and by the way how could I be so callous? Carla Madden is also female and was on the team at Tribal when 21:9 was created. She’s no longer in the building but freelancing so look her ass up. But don’t look at her ass – she’s already established that she’s not willing to sleep her way to the top. I’m betting that goes for freelance gigs too.

  5. LOL
    Well technically you were tallying the number of women in each agency and I am no longer there, so don’t worry I didn’t take offense.

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