By Tiff Ng.
Finding a career path in advertising in line with our values has become increasingly important. From finding jobs that allow for more flexible working arrangements to companies that espouse the same personal views, it’s led to a dramatic shift in career movement.*
It was the very thing that led me to take a sabbatical from my agency career over six years ago. The neverending rat race of unpaid internships and late nights in the office – I was told that this was a normal part of the work-hard-play-hard advertising story. But after too many stress cries in the aptly named ‘Fortress of Solitude’ meeting room, I knew there had to be something more.
In 2017, I decided to take a break and travel the world with every intention of returning back to the path set out for me. It is now 2023 and safe to say, I never went back. Instead, I built my own agency that sought to dismantle the hustle culture normalised in agency life. My business, The Social Story is a certified social enterprise, working exclusively with purpose-driven brands and determined to give back to the community both as a business and through our approach to social media content.
This was a chance to build something in the image of my values of social impact and diversity. It was also an opportunity to embrace the many other things young employees are searching for right now in their careers – flexibility to work from home (or even abroad), in my own hours and on something that creates a better world.
But yes, it was still social media advertising. Day in and day out, I’m still deep in the comments that perpetuate trolling and negativity. I’m still at the hands of billionaires changing up our platforms every day. What good can we do within these systems?
In a capitalist society, we cannot underestimate the power of advertising to put a brand in front of people and get people to buy a product or service to keep the business afloat. Advertising shows us the world we want to live in – albeit a world where their product or service fixes the problems we all face.
So if we do not leave the advertising industry, we want to create change and we still need our bills paid, where does that leave us? Well, it’s a good thing you landed on this blog post.
As marketers, we each have the opportunity to create a better world through the work we produce and the way in which we do that. We do not all have to leave our jobs in corporate Australia and start up a social enterprise to give back to the world. These are the steps to create an impact in the advertising world.
1. Think about the messages you are putting out
During my degree in Media and Communications, there was only one unit that was compulsory for us to complete – Media Law and Ethics. While they gave us the usual rundown of our responsibilities to avoid defamation laws, the biggest takeaway is that media, for the most part, is largely unregulated. It is up to individuals to self-regulate and ensure that they are fair and ethical in what they report.
That doesn’t always go to plan. If you’re looking for some weekend binging, The Newsroom is a great dramatisation of the way that the media has often failed to uphold its position as the fourth estate and call institutions in power to account and inform the general public. And for advertisers, that should be one and the same.
Scroll Mumbrella for 5 seconds and you'll find stories of an advertiser who got it wrong – trying to sell pens to only women as though they have too dainty a hand to hold a normal pen or a corporation being tone deaf by jumping on a social protest by offering cans of soda.
For any marketer, you may think, how the hell did that get through all the lines of approval even a simple Twitter post usually has to bypass? But also, who didn’t feel like they could say no? It’s like we’re in rooms full of Billy Macfarlanes, too scared to say that the Fyre Festival will go wrong and wrapped up in this hustle to just get it done.
But it takes individuals to be the self-regulators and remember that we have to be responsible for the advertising messages that we put out there.
So think about the things that matter to the world around us and to yourself.
Are you showing real narratives of people - especially those of marginalised communities?
Are you showing them at all?
Do you understand the issues you are trying to participate in?
And does your brand even have a role to play in talking about them?
Consider how every advertising message you put out there contributes to the wider conversation – from the single Instagram post to the big ad campaign that runs across all the major TV channels.
2. Stand up in your own organisation for what you believe in
I know this is hard, excruciatingly hard. Particularly in agency life, there’s a real culture of going through the motions and paying your dues. But change has to start somewhere.
Start small. Is there an existing diversity and inclusion team that you can join to champion events that will recognise the cultural backgrounds of all employees? Can you start ensuring that there are proper recycling facilities in the office? Infiltrate the group work chat with something you’re fundraising for or even talk to the higher-ups about sponsoring you to do something philanthropic.
ESG in companies is now a given but finding ways to build it from the ground up can not only help you feel like you’re making an impact but (bonus!) help you build a profile in your office beyond your own team or department.
3. Volunteer with organisations
You might be imagining soup kitchen or picking up trash. But skilled volunteering or pro bono is a great way to learn new skills, grow your network, add to your resume, explore new fields of work and of course, give back to the community.
Whether formalised in your corporate policy or an opportunity you seek out, it’s a chance to explore issues that make sense for you in ways that will also help you out professionally.
I’ve been volunteering with both Raise Our Voice Australia and Heard Storytelling for some time. Both organisations perfectly encapsulated the mission of both my company and my personal life - to empower more people to tell their stories. It’s our chance to experiment more and try out our skills in different roles of leadership. It’s also a chance to connect with other like-minded people who come from very different backgrounds and day jobs so that we can continually learn.
Find an organisation that is aligned with your exact mission and offer up your skills. Remember, this is still a commitment of your time and energy and particularly for organisations that aren’t working with a lot, don’t overcommit.
4. If it makes sense, do something for yourself
Sometimes, the best way to be true to your own purpose is to build something directly aligned with your values. That’s how I ended up founding The Social Story. Even after landing a career in social that I truly loved and believed in, I still felt deflated at the end of each day. It wasn’t until I was able to utilise my skills and experience with people from purpose-driven brands and design our business approach exactly as I needed did I feel truly satisfied.
It’s given me the chance to question everything, from the content we put out to what bank we use for the business. I’ve learned to rely on my mission for every decision and constantly back my decision to do so. I never would be spouting out these grandiose decisions if I hadn’t just put myself out to dry like this.
But I’ll be the first to admit that it isn’t for everyone. The hours are long, the work hard and I feel more confused and burnt out than ever sometimes. But when purpose and impact were my primary goals, nothing else felt like it would suffice.
So how will you create purpose as an advertiser?
Tiff Ng is Founder and Chief Storyteller at The Social Story, a social media agency helping impact-driven businesses share their important work. Read Mavens interview with Tiff to learn how The Social Story is pioneering ethical social media here.
*56.9% of marketers wanted to quit in 2022, according to Marketing Week’s 2022 Career and Salary Survey. In the same survey, only 14.2% found that the business they worked for aligned with their personal views. 74% of people want to find a job where they feel like it matters, based on another survey of LinkedIn users by Imperative.