Creatives need to stop competing and start mentoring each other

Fri, 21/09/2018 - 08:00

Competition among creatives is a long-standing tradition in the marketing and advertising world. From the moment you step into the industry, you’re encouraged to compete. Whether or not you’re outright pitted against each other, there’s this underlying belief that you have to be better than the person sitting next to you or you’re simply not good enough. Sure, many agencies have been preaching about teamwork since the beginning of time, but what they mean is that you work well with the art director, copywriter or strategist that you have been paired with to complete a specific task. Your “team” is comprised of people from different disciplines, not your fellow writers or designers.  

This obsession with competition doesn’t exactly come from nowhere. The entire industry is based on competition. For starters, the job of an agency is to compete, on behalf of their clients, against other brands for positive attention and increased sales. Then, of course, agencies have to compete against each other in order to sign the biggest clients. Nevermind the competing that goes on during awards season. When you think about it, it’s only natural that creatives are in competition with their peers in this industry. But that old-school way of thinking is doing far more harm than good. 

It’s 2018 and it’s time we realise that competing against each other is going to get us nowhere. Trying to one-up each other is helping no one. Instead, we, as creatives, should be embracing peer mentorship and all it has to offer.

What exactly do I mean by peer mentorship in this context?
Traditionally, mentorship has come from the top. Senior employees often mentor more junior employees by telling them the tricks of the trade, providing constructive criticism and offering career advice. And that’s great. Having someone who has been in the industry for a while giving you a helping hand can be extremely valuable. But so can mentorship from your peers. Peer mentorship, in the way the term is used here, differs from traditional mentorship in that it goes both ways. You act as a mentor and receive mentorship at the same time. And you’re all equals in this exchange. Nobody takes on a more senior role and everybody takes as much advice as they give. The objective is to share knowledge, approaches, understandings and perspectives among peers. 

But how can people with the same amount of experience mentor each other?
In this industry, there is a lot of emphasis placed on the amount of experience you have. In fact, as a creative, you generally move from junior to mid to senior according to your years of experience. The longer you’ve been working, the more senior you are. So, how can someone on a similar level to you, teach you anything of value? Well, just because they have the same amount of experience as you (or even less experience), doesn’t necessarily mean they have the same experience as you. Most of you have likely worked at different agencies before, you’ve handled different types of clients and you may even have backgrounds in different types of marketing or advertising. There’s always going to be something for you to learn. Even if you’re all interns, you probably received different practical or academic training. 

Peer mentorship isn’t always an official programme you go through or project set up by those at the top. It’s between you and your colleagues. It helps if there is already a culture of mentorship and collaboration within the agency. But if there isn’t, it’s up to the creatives of today to set the tone and start the trend.

What makes peer mentorship better than a bit of healthy competition?
First of all, there is no such thing as long-term “healthy competition”. You shouldn’t be basing your worth on the successes or failures of others. You should be focussing on doing the best you can do. Sure, at first it may encourage you to work harder, learn more and produce better results. However, “healthy competition” can easily turn into an unhealthy obsession, whether you’re conscious of it or not. After a while, you may be more interested in the failures of your peers than your own successes. It stops being about the quality of your work and starts being about the quality of their work. And, of course, the company culture and office environment suffer. There’s distrust, dislike, disrespect, and disloyalty – all for no good reason. Who wants to work under those conditions?      

Peer mentorship, on the other hand, encourages mutual respect and mutual growth. By sharing knowledge, ideas, methods and perspectives, you better your own work in the long run. And your agency will reap the benefits of a more productive, knowledgeable and insightful workforce. You could waste your time and energy trying to be better than your peers or you can all work together to be better as a whole. 

This is why every marketing agency in South Africa should encourage a culture of peer mentorship instead of competition. Rogerwilco firmly believes that we are all a team and working together only makes us better. 

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