The Law of Diminishing Marginal Humility

By Bronagh O'Donovan

Date: 18 June, 2016

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Before I decided to major in Marketing I was determined to study Economics; the HR department in Bank of Ireland advised I take Business in the University of Limerick so I put it top of my CAO form.

While I am delighted to have since fallen into advertising, there are still a couple of economic laws and theories that have stuck with me.

One in particular is The Law of Diminishing Marginal Returns. It states that as more units of a good are consumed the marginal utility gained from that good decreases. Put simply, if you eat your favourite dinner every day of the week, it won’t be your favourite dinner for long.

It was thinking about this theory while on an internship that I developed The Law of Diminishing Marginal Humility. I felt that with every meaningless job I was given, my humility was decreasing and, more importantly, my enthusiasm and desire to work in advertising was rapidly following suit. My humility hit an all time low when I was asked to manually flush the toilets. I’m pretty sure I saw my 1.1 Masters disappearing down the toilet bowl that day, but I can’t be sure…

He told me I needed to make myself indispensable as an intern

I was speaking to a colleague about this recently and he reminded me how lucky we had felt to even be allowed in the building. Unfortunately that feeling also means that interns will do anything to impress. We work in a hugely exciting industry, so it’s no wonder that people will work long hours doing menial tasks for free just to get a foot in the door and a name on their CV.

When I finished my masters I set up a meeting with the owner of a staffing agency for advice about getting into advertising in Dublin. He told me I needed to make myself indispensable as an intern. If you’re asked to make coffee, make the best coffee you can. If you’re given a brief to work on, stay up all night working on the brief.

I spent the two weeks inputting data into a spreadsheet

The next internship I did was two weeks in the UK. I packed the car and moved over, rented a room for the two weeks and was ready to make myself indispensable. I spent the two weeks inputting data into a spreadsheet. Even if I wanted to prove myself indispensable I didn’t get the chance!

Fortunately I managed to line up another internship immediately after this. It was four months long and eventually led to a paid position. I stayed in this agency and progressed from Intern to Account Exec to Account Manager. I don’t know if there was a day where I didn’t make coffee, or was sent out to get lunch and my humility most definitely hit rock bottom – remember the toilets? However, I filled the rest of my time working on projects that allowed me to boost my CV with real experience.

This ultimately lead me to my current role in Guns or Knives where I get to work with established brands on big campaigns and where if you have an idea, you’re given the freedom to go for it. I still sometimes make coffee, but it doesn’t seem to bother me anymore.

For me, the most worrying part of internship-land is all the untapped talent that sits in agencies around the world. How do you recognise a future award-winning Creative, Account Handler or Strategist when they walk into your building? What steps can you take to unearth and develop this talent?

Agencies need to put structures and processes in place to identify and make use of interns’ true potential. It’s ok to ask them get the odd coffee and do a few menial tasks, but only if those tasks are sandwiched between meaningful work and opportunities to prove themselves indispensable. Ultimately by increasing your interns’ opportunities, you’ll reduce their marginal humility. And if you reduce their marginal humility, they might stick around and increase your chances of winning a Cannes Lion or two.

Guns or Knives are part of the Rothco Group.

Rothco are proud sponsors of the Cannes Young Lions Competition 2016.

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