In 2015, I climbed the stairs to the first floor of bbd Towers and entered the Big House in copywriting terms, and a converted car park in literal terms. Was I nervous? Possibly. Uncertain? Certainly. I had worked in magazine publishing but never in an advertising agency. If there were unwritten rules, I had not read them. In my first few weeks, I flailed helplessly before a deluge of acronyms, discovered the hard way that there is, in fact, such a thing as a bad idea, and took my first delivery of some sobering client amends.
And now in 2020, as I get ready to submit my last timesheets, forget the combination to the bike cage, log off Zoom, and rejoin society as a freelancer, I have bbd to thank not just for five great years, four Christmas parties and summer Away Days, and thousands of billable hours, but also – and here I hope you will indulge me – for really standing up for the following:
1. Meaningful Recognition
A study by Workhuman found that 49% of employees do not get a ‘thank you’ at work. In the Creative industry, positively nurturing performance is often seen as a luxury when a bollocking will do. If that comes as a surprise, look up any famous agency on Glassdoor to forage through the wreckage of embittered young talent.
Maybe it’s an independent agency thing, or a Bournemouth thing, or just the legacy of the founders carried through to the present day, but meaningful recognition is an authentic part of bbd by design. The structures are in place, like 15 Five performance management software, that allow staff to ‘High Five’ each other for exceptional work. But there is also a top-down culture for spotting unsung heroes and recognising the enormous efforts a relatively small team goes to for some huge clients.
Particularly this year when most of us are working remotely, it’s hard to overstress the morale boost an unexpected ‘thank you’ or a few words of encouragement can give.
2. Gender Equality and Equity
In the last five years alone, the advertising industry as a whole has taken a regular beating for pay disparity, outright sexism, and for creating too many tone-deaf campaigns that either ignored or exploited equality. With shocking research revealing that as many as 50% of the UK population may be female, that seems short-sighted. Without having to explain or justify, bbd pushes relentlessly for equal representation, a powerful voice, and a fair deal when it comes to flexible working and maternity. Even those who leave bbd will take that benchmark with them.
That applies to age, too – something that the advertising industry as a whole is wrestling with publicly. The average age of a marketer is 32, but a major advertising agency this year went further by suggesting that 30 was the expiry date. Given the incredible talent that comes through to bbd each year from AUB, BU and beyond, a purely Gen Z agency would be perfectly successful, but it would be limited – not least because most of our clients and audience are from older demographics. While bbd has explored new avenues creatively in the last few years – from Snapchat filters to 3D design (and a Tik Tok video cannot be far away) – you can see that the core quality, the ‘bbd look’, is founded on classic design and artwork principles from the Old Skool years.
3. Honest Work
Preparing to go freelance is slightly terrifying but mostly energizing. Luckily, the last five years at bbd have been an impeccable foundation. Clients have no idea how much care and pride goes into the simplest brief, or how often all hands on deck are mustered for their more challenging projects. Nobody wants to let down their colleagues, disappoint a client or come up short. I’m sure that’s true of any agency that has survived a decade or more, but it’s been the minimum at bbd for more than 50 years.
That’s why we’re all in this to begin with, isn’t it. But it’s not just about the final work. I learnt many great skills at bbd that will serve me well as a freelancer to do with decluttering, time management, communication, collaboration – mostly by watching phenomenal people around me do it by instinct.
But creativity is also about time and resources. Sometimes you need to invest in intangible benefits – a quiz for the sake of it, an afternoon in the Brewhouse because why not. I hope bbd will continue to take the ‘silly’ things seriously and keep on finding the humour in some of the most fearsome challenges.
There is no #5 on the list, but thanks for getting this far. In fact, if you have made it down here you’re either proofreading or optimising for SEO so I will get out your way. So farewell then, bbd. I will miss the work, the people and the feeling of being part of something special.
It was a privilege.