The previous post on “Girls Who Code” made MultiCultClassics recall having never responded to the March 2011 Advertising Age perspective by Karen Mallia, as well as the related study Ms. Mallia co-wrote with Kasey Windels.
Mallia is a former advertising agency creative director and current assistant professor at the University of South Carolina. In recent years, her research has included examining women in the ad field, wondering why there is a dearth of dames, particularly at the creative director level. In 2009, Mallia presented another Advertising Age perspective, stating that motherhood partly prevented many women from advancing. Hell, she almost corroborated the infamous Neil French rant that took place in 2005.
Anyway, Mallia’s latest writings suggest digital agencies offer more opportunities than traditional advertising agencies for women to thrive and move forward. Can’t help but think Mallia—like most traditional agency veterans—is clueless about digital agencies and digital in general.
Granted, the digital field evolves as quickly and dramatically as the technology fueling it. At the same time, there are certain realities to consider for women who might buy into Mallia’s views.
First, the majority of digital agencies are ultra-fast-paced sweatshops. If motherhood hampers progress in traditional ad agencies, creative people can expect little difference in the digital arena. The truth is, all workplaces are growing increasingly supportive of family and flextime. There really is no advantage at digital agencies. Indeed, if a digital creative person does seek to be accommodated with telecommunicating and flextime, they will find it difficult to move beyond being a technician or executor versus a creative director.
Mallia’s belief that digital agencies feature more collaborative team structures is somewhat incorrect. Digital tends to be production-driven, meaning production partners are more closely involved, especially when they are coworkers within the shop. The duties typically handled by outside vendors are now the responsibility of people in neighboring cubicles. Closer proximity, however, does not equal a greater collaborative spirit. Fuzzy titles compound matters. Digital agencies are just as dysfunctional as traditional ad agencies—and often more messed up, as too many cooks disrupt the kitchen.
The holding companies also affect how digital agencies operate. Holding companies are buying whole agencies to kick-start their digital capabilities, and forcing integration within the network. The end result is chaos, as demonstrated by Team Sprint.
The aforementioned point ties to another digital field dilemma. In the end, a digital agency’s position in the overall marketing scheme is directly linked to its physical and professional relationship with the AOR. Those pesky traditional advertising agencies ultimately influence everything.
Mallia’s contention that opportunities will blossom because women comprise the larger digital audiences—plus, they are terrific content creators—doesn’t make a lot of sense. Women have always been the primary audience for the efforts of traditional advertising agencies; however, that fact hasn’t brought inclusiveness to Madison Avenue. And being a content creator will not necessarily land you a job in a digital agency. After all, these firms seek to generate revenue for clients, while online content usually is not preoccupied with profits. Until someone can figure a way to monetize mommy bloggers for marketing purposes, Mallia’s digital dream will be deferred.
To be fair, Mallia’s vision is thoughtful and hopeful. Yet for our global industry, digital mirrors diversity. There’s a lot of talk sans action. Leaders feign concern and commitment, and ultimately fall back to familiar, outdated processes. Quick fixes involve recruiting children. Money and power rule the day—and it’s clear who controls the money and power.
By all means, women should pursue careers in the digital field. But don’t expect easier access to becoming a creative director. Unless Daddy has political and corporate connections.