Since we were old enough to leave the house without our parents, many of us worked at a variety of jobs to earn some extra spending money. We marveled at the little bank-book we were handed when we deposited our first paycheck, and thoroughly enjoyed the experience of purchasing something for the first time without the help from mom and dad.
My first job was as a paperboy for the Toronto Sunday Sun at the tender young age of eleven.
Those Sunday papers were damn heavy. I had two routes, one through the streets of my neighbourhood, and the other, in a “government assisted” building not too far away.
If you want to toughen-up a kid, make him shake down people in the projects for $2 each week.
That first job was followed by a number of other jobs, until I finally landed in this industry that I chose for my profession.
It was a busy time and there were many changes going on in the industry. I went to school for four years and in that very first year upon graduation, many of the skills that I learned were about to go out the window with the introduction of computer design programs. One thing seemed clear, CDs weren’t about to take a chance at that moment on an inexperienced kid.
Drastic times call for drastic measures and I dreamed up a clever little idea. I approached some of those agencies again and told them that I would be willing to work for free, to gain some experience. They had absolutely nothing to lose.
One agency took this chance. It was a tiny shop where I got my start. I sat all day with the two seasoned partners, brainstorming on an office furniture account, listening to them bicker over the concepts like an old married couple while I sat at the drafting table drawing up layouts with an array of markers. It was a load of fun.
The partners felt that even though I offered my free service, they should at least buy me lunch and we went out every day to a different restaurant.
About a month into this arrangement, one of them dropped a bomb on me that would forever change my life.
“I was out at an event last night and was mentioning your situation” he began.
“A reporter for the Toronto Star is going to do a story on you and how you are working for free to break into your industry”.
It seems what I was doing was unique at the time.
My story ended up on the front page of the Sunday “Business” section later that month and my phone rang off the hook. Several different industries came calling but thankfully, I was able to take advantage of this new found “fame” by securing my first paid position as an Art Director for a much larger agency working on clients such as “Burger King” and “Budget Rent-a-Car”.
Since that day, no matter how grateful I am that I became a part of this business, I have always felt a sense of remorse. A deep disgust with myself that I was part of something that I believe, has become a plague in this industry. Unpaid internships.
When juniors come looking to get into this business, many are at a point where they are ready to leave the security of their parents for good. They are renting their first apartments, they are dating, partying, buying their first cars, doing everything that comes with a hefty price tag.
We should be ashamed for taking advantage of them.
As I have grown older and wiser I have come to the conclusion that no matter what type of work you do, you deserve to get paid. If you dig a ditch, you get paid. If you deliver pizza, you get paid. If you create an ad, you should get paid.
What kind of self absorbed, egotistical, "holier than thou" industry are we that we believe that working for us is a gift? Something that these kids should appreciate and savour until their three months are up and we send them back out in the street, no different than a drug dealer that gets them heavily hooked and then cuts them off.
We’ve all seen these kids. They call and email us every day. “Please take a look at my portfolio. I just finished an internship at “XYZ” and need advice so I can get back in…I HAVE to get back in”.
Of course, they are also completely strapped for cash because they just spent the last three months working for free, paying their expenses out of their savings, and haven’t had a second (while they were trying to impress) to do something else to make some much needed money.
It saddens me. And I will forever be sorry that the industry has embraced this practice.
Because of this, and going back to my conclusion, when I hire a junior to work with me (which is a rarity), I pay them. Period.
I’m a very small fry in this industry. Not some multi-million dollar ad agency making a tidy profit off the sweat of these individuals.
If I can afford to pay them, everyone else can too.
Let us change this horrible practice. For good.
As a kid, even some of the known prostitutes and drug dealers in the projects tipped me for delivering their papers every now and then.