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  (Markian Lozowchuk for Report on Business)


(Markian Lozowchuk for Report on Business)

Young, hip and reshaping the future of advertising Add to ...

Rodriguez believes his young employees are exceptional compared to their peers. “The problem with hiring the millennial generation is that sometimes the work ethic isn’t there, and the entitlement is there,” he says. The good ones buck the trend.




“You come in most weekends, they’re here. Most nights [too],” Leo Burnett Toronto chief executive officer Judy John says approvingly of Steve Persico and Anthony Chelvanathan, who are considered one of the best young creative duos in Canadian advertising.

Like many young agency employees, they are known for slaving through the night to perfect a pitch. Their equivalent of a midmorning coffee break is a Ping-Pong game or a scooter ride through the hallways at 3 a.m. Recently, they’ve done that less—not out of a new-found sense of propriety, or because they’ve passed the ripe age of 30. “We got girlfriends,” Chelvanathan explains.

Given the gruelling hours—a commercial shoot is easily a 14-hour day—many young people in advertising are miffed to see millennials painted as a lazy, entitled generation. Having entered the working world during a massive global economic downturn, they take their careers seriously. They’ve seen friends laid off, or forced to move back in with their parents.

“It took me forever to find a job after the recession,” says Jordan Cappadocia, an accounts supervisor at TBWA Toronto. “I’m not going to dick around.”

“I think that psychologically affected us in a way that hasn’t been written about or discussed,” says Nick Doerr, a 29-year-old copywriter at the same firm. “If another recession hits, you know you gotta be at the top of your game. That’s why we work as hard as possible.”

And they do it at cut-rate salaries. Cappadocia, 25, watched most of his friends from business school glide into jobs on Bay Street; he knew he too could make $70,000 straight out of school, or closer to $30,000. He chose the latter. “But for a reason. It’s more fun,” he says. “And you can always work your way up.”

Many others make the same trade-off: It is a chance to do something creative, to have fun.

And to never wear a tie. Everything your mother told you about how to dress to get a job does not apply in advertising. One day I sit down at a boardroom table at John St. to meet with some of the talent. Copywriter Jacob Greer, 33, wears slim burgundy pants and a plaid shirt with the arms rolled up, revealing tattoos that culminate in florid illustrations of skulls on the backs of his hands. Hannah Smit sits next to him, her long blond hair tucked back into a ponytail. She wears wayfarer-style chunky black glasses and a T-shirt with a skull on it. At TBWA, a young account executive earned the nickname “Tuck” because he has the habit of tucking in his shirt.

But the ethos goes deeper than a style of self-adornment that favours skulls. The assemblage of creative people—young and old—fosters a certain social bond. “The island of misfit toys,” John St. copywriter Keri Zierler calls it.



Bacon marmalade toasts are prepped on a reclaimed wood table. Umami mac-and-cheese is filmed in close focus. Blood orange gin fizz is served up on an antique silver tray, a precious Boardwalk Empire-style glass decanter of gin next to the pink concoctions.

When Bensimon Byrne’s Angie Bird and Jessie Sorell started working on the videos for Loblaws’ line of Black Label products, they took inspiration from the lushly photographed recipe blogs, such as Smitten Kitchen, that their generation dotes on.

The videos’ meticulous production is prettier and more movie-like than typical TV commercials; yet they are created at a fraction of a TV budget. Originally, the ads were intended to be distributed online only. When Loblaw executive chairman Galen Weston saw the spots, however, he decided they should be on television as well. This isn’t unusual: Digital platforms not only command huge audiences, they have also become de facto testing grounds for other media. If content proves popular, marketers will feel more confident investing in expanding a campaign.

But even with the Weston thumb’s-up, Bird and Sorell are still expected to pull off the campaign for a song. The Black Label videos are generally shot two in a day; they will make about 20 videos this year.

It’s a world away from what Bird experienced at another agency, where she took part in a $500,000 shoot on location in South Africa—for a commercial that never made it to air. Those days are gone. Marketing budgets are being spread thinner, and procurement departments are more involved than ever in agency selection. Slimmer, more nimble operations win. “Clients keep wanting it for less, and people keep pulling off miracles for less,” Bird says.

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