Thursday, November 6, 2008

Help stop this terrible waste of a brilliant talent

I come from Zimbabwe. It is a country that I love, populated by a people that I love and ruled by a monster who I hate. Properly, fundamentally and all-consumingly hate. I cannot summon up enough obscenity to describe my hatred for Robert Mugabe. But I don't want to talk about him. I want to talk about my very good friend, L.

L is a very senior advertising copywriter, editor and wordsmith at large - arguably Zimbabwe's top talent in that field. Twenty-two years of experience. She still lives there, unlike me, who got out eight years ago. Despite everything - the horrific political situation and the utter destruction of the economy, L like the majority of Zimbabweans, has managed to survive because Zimbabweans do one thing very well: they "make a plan". "Making a plan" should actually read, "finding a way to get round yet another hugely difficult obstacle".

But things have rapidly ground to a complete halt in Zimbabwe. Inflation which ran into the stratosphere has finally completely killed the local currency. This means that it is pretty much worthless. If you want to buy something now, pay in US dollars. And for many Zimbabweans, that is a problem because Zimbabwe ain't earning much of any currency right now - it has almost nothing to export and a wasteland of a productive sector. Thanks, Mugabe.

L, now desperate to earn foreign currency so she and her dependents (dependents = children, domestic workers, domestic workers' children, her retired mother, extended family, pets and others to whom she happily gives) can buy food and other basic staples, is coming over to the UK to train as a carer. Yes, to learn how to wipe old peoples' arses. It seems Zimbabweans are good carers - and I know L would be brilliant. She's a very kind, gentle woman. But this is bullshit!

I do not want to devalue the work of carers at all, but L is a WRITER. A bloody good writer who, to be frank, could outclass some of the very top copywriters over here in the UK. Her skill is very hard-won. Like all other Zimbabweans, copywriters have had to invent and innovate their way around problems one does not encounter in any other country. Her skills have been honed under the most difficult marketing conditions and she's been successful. Her clients have benefited. She has held several Creative Directorships and she has won awards. Lots of them.

She is conscientious. She used to work with me and I have seen her burning midnight oil, often. I have seen her battling to improve a piece of writing that is more than good enough. Her career matters so much to her. I write copy because I have to. She writes copy because it fulfills her. Every comma, every full stop she places is agonised over. Her delete button is probably worn through because I remember how before she had a computer, she used to cross-out and re-write the same sentence sometimes dozens of times.

She has written to overseas agencies asking for work but with the storm of job applications that lands daily on the desks of creative Directors across the world, she has not managed to get much work. Those who do read her application and her CV are doubtless impressed but hell, "Zimbabwe's a long way away. It just wouldn't work." Rubbish!

  • Zimbabwe, give or take an hour or two, is in the same timezone as the UK.
  • From my own experience I can tell you that I have some clients in London, the same city as me, who I have never met, communicating only through emails and phone calls.
  • Sophistication is not an issue. The one thing I discovered once joining the creative industry in the UK is that it is actually not much more sophisticated or clever than that of Zimbabwe's. Just look at the fecking Halifax ads!
  • L would cost a fraction of the hourly rate of a UK writer and deliver huge bang for the buck
  • She has UK right of abode
Much as I admire L's "I'll do whatever it takes" approach, I am not having it.

Advertising is a horrible, cut-throat industry. Very few people like L survive - she's too nice. Too gentle. I fear for her. I fear that the industry that she has loved, immersed herself in, helped to drive, helped to improve, won't give her anything back. She'll get swept aside in the wake of the race to win more D&AD awards, more Cleos.

I also know that there are people in the advertising industry who understand the value of people like L. People who when they read this will bother to contact me. People who want, like a Zimbabwean, to make a plan.

Please contact me. Please pass this on. I have her CV and her portfolio here.


  1. Despite not being someone who could help 'L' directly I would like to say she is lucky to have a friend who is looking out for her and I will pray for her tonight, that she comes to the UK and maintains her career instead of wiping asses all day long.

  2. Could I have L's book? And her CV?

  3. Sure, Manoj Please send me your email address.