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The serious business of redundancy in the creative industries

Jonathan Wilcock – Forced Smile.
The serious business of redundancy.

There’s a lot of it about. My LinkedIn feed is full of Copywriters, Art Directors and Designers who’ve been chucked out with the bin bags.

Redundancy is a very rude wakeup call. For many of us, it’s probably up there with divorce and bereavement.

But, all is not lost – I promise you.

As a graduate of the school of, “sorry, but we’re having to tighten our belts”, here is my advice on how to (and not to) deal with redundancy.

My first redundancy

Covent Garden; top 20 advertising agency. I was a Junior Copywriter/Art Director. It was my first job and I loved it. I was just coming up to 2 years when the bell tolled.

I went numb. The Head of Art cracked open a bottle of Champagne and muttered something about, “…don’t worry…happens to us all…character building…you’ll laugh about this later…”.

But I was in shock. Just a few weeks before, the Creative Director had taken me aside and talked about giving me a pay rise. I was confused, sad and in a state of panic.

Over the next few months I worried myself into a skin condition and depression. I felt useless and unloved.

I bled my bank account to the point where I only had £7 left. I signed on the dole in Brixton, which was an experience – I’d never felt so much anger in one place.

Then somehow, the clouds parted and I landed an amaaaaazing freelance gig, coming up with press ads and a TV commercial for a month of Spanish design and fashion at Harrods. Six solid weeks, three of them touring Seville, Granada, Barcelona and Madrid.

We stayed in The Ritz, dined in 2-Michelin Star restaurants and had a right old time of it.

I carried on freelancing for a few months and must have at least trebled my old salary.

My second redundancy

Soho; small ad agency with big aspirations. This was my third fulltime job (I’d resigned from the second one – another story).

11 months in, they merged with a famous hotshot agency packed to the gunwales of their chrome and leather offices with superstar creatives. Last in, first out!

Thankfully, I’d learnt my lesson from redundancy number one. Worrying will get you nowhere, other than a skin clinic.

So, I took the pay-off and splashed it on a 6-week trip to India. I nearly died over there, and that really is another story – A brush with death in Kashmir.

I came back mind-blown and 1 stone lighter, but fully relaxed. I had a spring in my step.

I bounced, fairly effortlessly, into a great job, working on big accounts with even bigger budgets.

My third redundancy

Covent Garden; huge ad agency with a 32-strong creative department. I lasted over three years, but a new CEO came in and waved his new broom about like a sabre. The department was unwieldy and expensive (even we could see that). Eight teams were chopped. I was amongst them.

I had fond memories of freelancing, so thought I’d give it another go. And it was a huge success. 11 years of working with all sorts of brilliant people on all sorts of brands. It was completely liberating.

My fourth redundancy

Small, provincial agency with one humongous account. My main freelance agency client had folded and I couldn’t say no – working with an old friend and colleague, a four-day week, great salary, and ‘Creative Director’ after my name.

What an idiot. I really should have said no, but you know – family, mortgage, ego.

Anyway, one year later it all started to fall apart. This time, I took voluntary redundancy and jumped head first into Plan B; my own creative agency.

My fifth redundancy

This one’s got to be worth it’s own blog post one day.

Long story short, I’d sold up to another agency. They took on all the staff, including yours truly.

Three months later, they let me go.

As I write this, that was six-and-a-bit years ago and I’ve been freelancing ever since.

What have I learnt?

– Working in advertising and design is about as sensible as building a house of straw at the foot of a volcano

– Just about everyone will face the Redundancy Goblin’s noose at some point

– It’s nothing to be ashamed of

– Panicking only makes things much, much worse

– It won’t feel like it at the time, but you can bet it will lead to something much, much better

– Especially if you’re open to whatever life has up its sleeve

– While you’re in that ‘steady’ job, save a few pennies to soften the blow, should it happen to you

– Being in control is an illusion

– But that’s only a problem if you grasp too hard on the rudder

– You get what you need, so that you can learn and grow

– You will come out the other end of the mincer sooner or later

– You may get battered and bruised, but…

– It’s all good – especially the bad bits

Seriously, if you’ve been made redundant recently, I feel for you. But, it will work out. More than likely, not the way you think or hope it will, but that’s all part of the adventure.

My advice is simple. Work hard, remember to relax, don’t be afraid to ask for help, believe and the rest will sort itself out. Even if your next career move is to jack it all in, take a vow of silence, go live in a cave and survive by growing your own vegetables (sorry, private fantasy).

Love and patience

Jonathan x

Jonathan Wilcock (that’s me) is a Senior Freelance Copywriter.
You can drop me a line here, or email