Antoinette Beatson, BETC: "We have a shared responsibility to make these kids great"

Advertising and Education: The Meeting Point (Part 1)

by Mark Tungate , Adforum

In a series of interviews in partnership with the IAA France, we discuss the perception of advertising among young people, and find out what efforts are being made to attract young talent to the industry. Our first interviewee is Antoinette Beatson, Vice-President, Executive Creative Director, BETC, France. 


With its legendary track record and impressive building on the outskirts of Paris, BETC must be one the coolest places to work in any industry. But that doesn’t make it any easier to attract – and particularly retain – young talent, says VP/ECD Antoinette Beatson.

“They feel as though advertising is just like any other corporate business. They don’t believe in sacrifice, and their identity is not based on their jobs. They don’t have a ‘dream job’, simply because they don’t dream about their job.”

As a result, job interviews have been reversed. “The agency now has to show what it can bring to them. Their demands are large, and I would say justified. They want to be sure that any time they spend at the agency is meaningful, quality time, and that the experience will bring something to them.”


A volatile workforce


The fascination earlier generations had with advertising has faded, she remarks. Young people don’t often watch broadcast TV, they don’t have a reverence for beautiful TV spots – in short, advertising is not part of their popular culture. Advertising is likely to be one choice among many, as is the agency where they deign to work.

“An agency is now a springboard rather than a career path. The irony is that while young people aren’t invested in us in the long term, agencies have never invested more in them over the short time they’re with us. We’ve come to terms with the fact that our investment and tutoring will benefit another agency, and vice versa. It’s a shared workforce.”

On a positive note, it means that all agencies are forging the future of the advertising community. “We have a shared responsibility to make these kids great.”

BETC does a lot to enable that. It holds regular masterclasses, as well as the BETC Academy, hosted by President and Chief Creative Officer Stéphane Xiberras. This brings together teams of young creatives, strategists and account people to work on real briefs. The results are then presented to the client. Young teams are also encouraged internally to work on “wild briefs”, which are calls for innovative ideas that can be proposed to clients.


The creative advantage


Creativity still counts. In fact the opportunity to hone your creative skills is an advantage the ad industry has over many others. “Some studies show that ‘creativity’ is more valued than intelligence – and it ranks first in the list of the best soft skills to have,” says Antoinette. “It’s a skill that can’t be taken away by technology, even by the fantastic AI revolution we’re going through.”

Due to that revolution, she adds, this is the perfect time to enter the industry. “If they come in to the industry now, they will have the same huge advantage of being ‘AI native’ as the ‘digital native’ generation had before them.”

Antoinette recently heard the director of an ad school tell graduating students that they had a steep learning curve ahead, “because everything you’ve learned here will be out of date in six months”. The industry moves with increasing speed. So how to teach advertising?

“The best bet is to foster creativity in order to help kids meet future challenges. I recently read that 71 per cent of college-educated professionals believe creative thinking should be taught as a course. It gives you adaptability. AI is not going to hurt creative people, because they will embrace it and use it.”

French ad schools typically offer five year courses, but graduates told Antoinette this could probably be reduced to three. “Especially since a large part of that time is taken up with internships. They’d prefer to enter an agency earlier.”

Having said that, they appreciated classes that sharpened their creativity, particularly “ad battles” where teams compete on briefs. “In general they said there was a growing emphasis on creativity, even on the account side.”


Advertising for good or bad?


It’s obvious that young people are concerned about climate change and sustainability. Has that turned many of them against advertising, given its link to over-consumption? Antoinette believes so.

“Having said that, we do have young people in the agency, so those are the ones who’ve accepted to come in,” she says. “What their generation really hates is any form of Greenwashing. They’ll easily forgive an unapologetic brand if it’s cool or authentic, but they can’t stand a cover up.”

While many young people want a “meaningful” job, advertising is not the wasteland of hypocrisy they fear. Purpose-driven campaigns may be on the wane, but advertising still has tremendous power to affect positive change. Internally, sustainability efforts are being made on the production side, “such as no longer flying thousands of miles for a shoot”.

So what’s the profile of young people who are entering BETC? Do they tend to come from ad schools? “Some do come from that route, but the historic DNA of the agency is that it’s very open. We love people with different backgrounds and points of view. If I look around, the agency is a melting pot of non-conformist, creative-minded thinkers. So we’re getting something right with recruitment.”

This can be seen “at every level”, she says. “Whether it’s the strategists, the account people or even the canteen, everybody is pushing for creativity.”

BETC is increasingly international in spirit, with over 30 different nationalities working there. Apart from an open outlook, what other attributes does Antoinette look for in young recruits? “People who are better than me – who I can learn from as much as they can learn from me.”

She admits that she’s often sad to see them go after a short space of time. “They like to move from agency to agency, learning from each. In a way I can understand that. They want every moment of their time to be exciting.”


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