An Accountant in Adland: Thinking & numbers of new ad-ventures [S1 E8]
by Siwe Thusi (@Siwe_Thusi) The last year has been fascinating. Starting around June 2018, I had begun to experience an increasingly strong and deep need for something new: a new environment, a new account to work on, and an insatiable need to be stretched. Just over a year later, I’ve taken the plunge. A year? Well, yes. My internal thinking, wrestled through so much to meet my catalytic external reality. And then there’s all the in-between… So, yes, a year.
Think back to your first jump to something new after your first advertising job. I imagine that moving around agencies becomes easier after that but nothing is quite “like your first time”. Oh yes, we have all heard the worn-out “nothing happens inside your comfort zone” but so many people think that things are constantly happening in their comfort zones. The truth about those little things happening over and over is that, in aggregate, they seem big but they aren’t different.
Different is currency. It is awe-inspiring and a sexy catalyst to the work we aspire to make. Sometimes your first agency is the springboard to different; it’s the springboard to truly coming into your own. A month ago, this dawned on me in a “champagne-in-my-hand-at-my-farewell” way. It was scary — not the leaving of my job but the unknown of a second chapter — the next agency… the new ad-venture.
The numbers of your worth
Know your worth… If I had 1-metre1 from everyone who’d said that to me during my job search process, I’d have a seat a Jigga’s2 billionaire table. But how do you quantify your worth in advertising really? Is it the awards you’ve won for the agency? Is it a meeting not starting on time because of a client’s flustered “Where’s Siwe? Isn’t she in this meeting? I want Siwe here, please”? Is the ability to drop mics and bombs of value in meetings? Is it the irony of what you do outside of the agency that raises ‘your price’?
My CA(SA) qualification also adds a spanner to the quantifying works. 2019 would see me five years into my career practicing as a specialist. That would make me a senior FM or a CFO (yes, respect me) and, according to Payscale research, with an average annual salary of R1 111 400 — a monthly gross of R92 616 and a monthly take-home of about R56 000 (cry with me).
Does the fact that I chose passion over money count? If the talent teams in advertising are shifting towards looking for people outside of advertising and hiring “fluid thinking”… has the industry done its homework in how to really assess “worth”?
All of these have some influence, yes, but when those are removed, what’s left? The conviction and self-awareness of what you can and can’t do. Note: not delusions of grandeur either, let’s be clear.
I’ve noticed that the main driver for jumping ship in the industry is dissatisfaction with a salary. Because that’s how the ‘I’m looking to move’ economy works — where the next agency will always be a willing participant in the Ad-Talent-esque bidding wars. And when that new salary jump happens, it carries with it the responsibility of conviction that you had in interviews to be proven in real life. That’s what I had to be so conscious of: What can I do well and, when I emerge into “different”, what will I contribute to my new job and the industry at large?
Because it’s “different” that is celebrated on David Letterman’s new series “My Next Guest Needs No Introduction” on Netflix (this is not an ad).
Your “different” should scare you. Your “different” is what gets your asking salary considered outside of Ad Talent’s “In 2018, a senior strategic planner in Johannesburg is paid a CTC of between R47 000 to R60 000 per month.” Your “different” should hold you accountable to what you’d said in your interview. Your “different” should be the ammo you need to ask for the worth that you’re convinced about.
This is the ‘real’ about looking for another job in advertising (in life, actually). We all have some idea of an exit plan, the strategy to leave. The exit plan is usually about bursts of excitement and the prospects of a new life, muffled by a silent calm demeanor during work hours. It feels sneaky because this nearly new life plays out in parallel to your normal. It plays out after hours, in pockets of time during lunchtime, at tea-times and on sick-leave days. Hopping from one agency to the next, being careful not to make your decision known just yet. Choosing between where you want to work, based on the shortest proximity to your house or the opportunity itself. It’s exhausting, but exciting.
The thing is, in the interest of the not burning-your-bridges school of thought, there still has to be a level of respect to your current reality, the job that has helped pay your mortgage or rent for the past number of years. One day, I imagine a world where you could state your intentions of looking for something new and not fearing a passive/aggressive crucifixion of your decision to grow elsewhere. This is a lot of people’s lived experience. This is the realism of it.
And the ideal? I imagine a world where notice period is about being able to ask for mentorship, post the corporate breakup. I imagine a world of amicable agency breakups that allow for an agency makeup a few years down the line. This industry demands space for those bridges. True, some people’s experiences are a breakup from a toxicity or being treated badly… but the exit should create breathing room for a healthy industry event run-in, a healthy agency return or… a springboard to “different”, with old colleagues cheering on.
And now that I’m here, my new ad-venture will be “different”. And I can’t wait.
1 1-metre: South African slang for R1million
2 Jigga: Rapper Jay-Z
Siwelile Thusi (@Siwe_Thusi) is a qualified South African chartered-accountant-turned-creative-strategist who’s just joined M&C Saatchi Abel from FCB Joburg. She is also a working photographer and writer. Since mid-2015, she’s been in strategic planning, working on some of South Africa’s big brands in different categories and industries in the ATL and digital spaces. She contributes the monthly column “An Accountant in Adland” — exploring where, when and how the two ‘disciplines’ overlap… and why they should! — to MarkLives.com.