You folks working in adland are a talented bunch.

You’re thinkers beyond boxes, joiners of dots and creators of wonder. You can adapt and explain, comprehend and convince. Not to mention you’re amazingly productive under pitch deadline pressure.

For me, the big question has always been how to best use that talent – it’s all about what we do with it isn’t it?

Mattering is Hard
Mattering is Hard

Earlier this year I argued that it was time to represent the diverse people of Ireland and, heart-warmingly, that’s already happening on Irish screens. Now, it’s time for us to step up again as a profound shift takes hold across the marketing and advertising industry worldwide.

As a creative industry, we’ve finally started to recognise that work for the greater good can be great work. The Glass Lions are the most prominent example of this. Introduced at this year’s Cannes, the award recognises campaigns that address issues of gender inequality or prejudice, through the conscious representation of gender in advertising. (Hallelujah sisters!)

Even print media isn’t unmoved by the shifting sands. The Drum has a new beat – its print magazine relaunched last month with a focus on marketing as a force for positive change in the world.

What is this telling us about the environment in which we work?

Nils Leonard, chair and chief creative officer of Grey London, nailed it in a recent Marketing Magazine article:

“Are you a bilge-pipe of annoyance, or are you in the business of using your creativity to make something that actually matters?…Some of us will find this uncomfortable, because mattering is hard. And it moves us [agencies] from being shadowy advisers to being companies that people might actually want around.”

‘Shadowy advisors’ may seem like a harsh judgement of why you get out of bed in the morning, yet Nils exposes an outdated assumption which still prevails in business: There is a brutal choice between making stuff that matters and making money.

Why can’t we do both?

For advertising and media agencies, doing both is going to be a challenge on all fronts. A strategic challenge, a creative challenge, a communications challenge, a business challenge.

Luckily, advertising maven Cindy Gallop has proposed a business model of the future: Shared Values + Shared Action = Shared Profit (financial profit and social profit). Problem solved.

For individuals working in advertising and media agencies, the challenge is more personal.

Give Yourself to the Bright Side
Give Yourself to the Bright Side

Last month, Girl Effect – the organisation I work for – announced a formidable appointment in our new CEO, Farah Ramzan Golant. Reading her resumé makes the word formidable seem rather inadequate: CEO of All3Media, CEO of AMV BBDO, advisor to the British Prime Minister and awarded a CBE for Services to Advertising. For her part, Farah describes the move as “a once in a lifetime opportunity to play my part”.

It’s inspiring to have a role model whose roots are in adland. Especially as I took a 6359km leap in June, from DDFH&B in 3 Christchurch Square to Girl Effect in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

It’s inspiring to have a role model whose roots are in adland.

I now work as the lead strategist on a brand with the purpose of bringing girls together so they are more connected, visible and valued. Rooted in Ethiopian culture and crafted with behaviour change expertise, ‘Yegna‘ (yen-ya) is a multi-platform brand designed entirely to inspire positive change for girls in Ethiopia. It is Ethiopia’s first ever teen brand and it has kick-started a national conversation about the challenges and opportunities girls face.

What does that mean in adland speak?

It’s breathing life into a brand vision and purpose.

It’s understanding behaviour to uncover insights which unlock change.

It’s inspiring outstanding creative work to promote the brand.

It’s about driving consumers to our branded products.

It’s integrating mobile technology to enhance the brand experience.

And the scale of it all is huge…it’s media planning in a country of 95 million people!

It’s the same ‘mad’ skills applied to different challenges in a different context.

The point is, you don’t have to be a CEO or have a CBE to play your part.

Play it Forward Anyway
Play it Forward Anyway

Don’t want to give up the day job? Fair enough. Life in adland is pretty brilliant. It wasn’t easy for me to leave.

Besides, packing up and moving out to Ethiopia might not be your thing. Here’s two ways you can play it forward without moving a mile:

Be a board member: Boardsmatch have a ton of voluntary board positions with charitable organisations on the look out for marketing communications experts.
Be a mentor: The Aspire Foundation currently has a call out for women working in the business and corporate world to mentor women who work in charities and social enterprises. Set up by Dr Sam Collins, there is no cost to mentor or mentee and the commitment is just 1 hour a month for 6 months over the phone or Skype.
So now, you talented adland folks, there’s really no excuse not to put your mad skills to use.