VIEWPOINT: FRESH RECRUIT

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Within the Vanity Fair that is advertising -- with its Pencils, its Lions, Addies, Effies, Rineys, Goodbys and Frisbees -- the caste system is alive and well. Product advertising is Zeus, broadcast his thunderbolts. Select clients with cachet can make red blood run blue -- as blue as the Mediterranean at Cannes where the Lords of the ad-ristocracy go on their annual pilgrimage to the Lourdes of creativity.

Everything else is the lumpen proletariat, with some lumpens much lumpier than others. So, while it is painful to experience the coldness of the Court, I'll say it loud and proud: I'm a recruitment ad writer. Yes, we are the folks who bring you those little smudgy classified ads. I'm the first to admit that much of the stuff recruitment agencies produce is at best safe, and at worst unintelligible -- rife with exclamation points and most comfortable in the wretchedly retro '70s graphic design mode. Yet sometimes, one or two things are as clever, effective and pretty to look at as anything coming from Boutique Advertising. And it's wonderfully satisfying to write, in spite of the fact that most people won't ever see it.

Yes, I'm afraid there are no blue jeans, beer, snowboard or anti-heroin ads in my portfolio. No pro-heroin ads either. And yet, I believe I am still a good person. I realize there might be one or two of you out there who will say, "Doesn't she sound the tiniest bit defensive?" But without the requisite product pieces in my portfolio, I am an Untouchable. In fact, next to direct mail (which I hear is enjoying something of a renaissance), I couldn't get any lower.

This I learned first-hand while trying to get an appointment to have my portfolio looked at by 'real' agencies -- perfectly ordinary ones with not a trace of hot shop status. Assistants to the administrative assistant to the associate creative director would ask me where I've worked before. Fair enough. But on hearing the answer, they quickly dropped the semi-Eurotrash accent and dryly told me to try back sometime after 1999. It happened repeatedly, and it was giving me a pre-millennial fever. So, still wanting to write, I got a job at a direct mail joint after the kooky co-owner, a large woman who repeatedly referred to herself as the top suit, told me she was going to be the one to rescue me from the gutter of recruitment. After she stared daggers at me at meetings because I liked to go home before 9 p.m., and after she scrawled "awful" across yet another piece of agency promo copy I had written, I rolled back into the gutter, where I'm very comfortable, thank you. We're doing something worthwhile: getting decent folks decent jobs.

Moreover, good recruitment advertising is a challenge; our bread-and-butter clients are Silicon Valley's major companies, which are dropping serious coin to lure a rarefied pool of capable talent through their doors. Sign-on bonuses, quarterly bonuses, pre-IPO stock options and fancy car leases are not common perks for recent college graduates. The act of seducing each other's top brains is serious business here. And every once in a while, we have clients who understand.

Recruitment is really a very pure form of what advertising was created to do: motivate. But here we're talking about compelling a person to change livelihoods and neighborhoods and go out there into the unknown. This is a fundamentally more formidable decision than what to drink or eat or wear on your feet. Employment is about security, worth and status. Never mind the fact that those of us who write the ads have, at most, only the security.

Of course, there can be more to the downside of this business. Wacky humor is rare; suggestive language and subversive overtones are out. Our clients seem to want more mountain bikers and windsurfers than dogs and Elvis lookalikes in their ads, but I'm not exactly doing the Dew over here. I also can't singlehandedly exterminate the collage-art mindset, and there was that time a major computer company refused to let me use "anchor" in the copy because it sounded too nautical. But for the most part, I'm OK with what I do. People do indeed read the copy, and we can tell right away if the ad worked. And there is a certain Zen appeal to creating yet another campaign for yet another computer company who believes that allowing their employees to wear shorts to work will magically fill their job slots. (Hey, it works for UPS.)

So when I read a quote in the trades that some boutiquey CD is doing "exciting things with prunes," I sit in my snappy little outlet that is not a creative boutique and I am smug. Or I try to be.

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