It was the best of Breakfasts, it was the worst of Breakfasts

I’m reading the before-she-became-famous Wolf Hall dry run from Hilary Mantel at the moment. It’s called A Place of Greater Safety and it attempts to chronicle the French Revolution by focusing on the lives of the key protagonists. It presages Hilary’s name-dropping cast of thousands approach to historical fiction that has earned her great acclaim for Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. You know what I mean. Hello Citizen Robespierre, isn’t that Dr Guillotin talking to Jean-Paul Marat over there?

Well regardless of the fact that her editor was obviously AWOL when Hilary was writing this tome, she certainly painted a vivid picture of a crazy time in history when the social pyramid was upturned. Aristos found themselves foppishly at the bottom and sans-culottes with their horny hands and rough demeanour, lorded over one of the world’s greatest cities.

I was thinking of all this when I attended the latest TARGETjobs Breakfast News on 28 February in the Cumberland Hotel, historically a stone’s throw away from the site of the Tyburn gallows. But it wasn’t this spurious link with public executions that made me think of the tumultuous upturning of the social order in France, it was the speakers at the event.

This was the 26th TARGETjobs Breakfast News and if you haven’t been to one, it’s a themed set of presentations to an audience of about 200 graduate recruiters, agencies and careers advisers. And a cooked breakfast. This time the theme was ‘Getting Your Message Across.’

This was the first Breakfast News without Bryan Finn, who sadly passed away before Christmas. He normally kicked things with an urbane and ordered view of the state of the economy and how it affected recruitment and jobs. It was his role to desperately search for green shoots while telling us all that consumer confidence had hit record lows (again). He didn’t find many shoots.

So it was debut time for our new economist, Dennis Turner, ex-Chief Economist at HSBC. Dennis is a rumbustious character and difficult to describe as (this is a compliment Dennis) he doesn’t look like an economist. If you can imagine Harry Hill with graphs, you’ll be halfway there. But, quite clearly, this is a man who knows his onions. He told us that the recession was over. Yes, I wrote it down when he said it. OK, we’re maybe doomed to generations of sluggish growth but the worst was over, he said. I don’t think that everyone believed him but by golly, we all felt buoyed up by the news. If Dennis had told us to sing the Marseillaise, we would have done it with gusto.

Doubtless inspired by the death of the old certainties, Simon Russell, Director of Consulting at Work Group, not so much bit the hand that feeds him but chewed it off and spat it into the carpet. Work Group is a leading communications, media and recruitment agency (and they sponsor Breakfast News) with many of their clients and prospective clients sitting in the room. So what did he do? He presented a decade’s critique of graduate recruitment advertising media, pointing out that creative agencies’ work can sometimes be more stylish than effective. That there are too many easy visual clichés and too much verbosity and lack of clarity in the copy.

He showed examples of these oft-repeated ‘tropes’ – the leaping happy undergrads; the young people pictured on the tops of buildings imagining the future; the overuse of children as a metaphor for a bright tomorrow; the bloody signposts.






He showed examples of laboured writing that didn’t speak honestly and clearly to students:

You can create the kind of opportunity that begets greater opportunity and bigger impact that you ever imagined.
Your unleashed potential is our most powerful asset.
Do you have bursting ambition?

The best and most convincing recruitment messaging, he said, is based on a sincere attempt to give students useful information on which they can base sensible and appropriate career decisions. Factual insight, honest disclosure and a respect for the reader’s intelligence are good; gimmickry, clichés and empty hyperbole – not so much. More to the point, if you end up looking and sounding like your competitors, how helpful is that going to be to students looking for differences?

Compare the empty rhetoric above with the simple statement on a recent L’Oreal ad:

Within four weeks I was managing my own brand.

Guess what kind of language and messaging that students find most helpful? Correct. They are ultra-sceptical and media savvy, so just tell them clearly and honestly what they’re going to do if they get the job was his advice.

It wasn’t quite up there with the storming of the Bastille, but I emerged into London’s pale morning sunlight energised and surprised by an optimistic economist and an ad man poking gentle fun at his own industry.

The next day (I checked) the world was carrying on as if nothing had happened.

You can read more from Simon Russell at:

Or more about the rest of what happened at TARGETjobs Breakfast News at:

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