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IHAVEANIDEA.ORG > articles >  9/11′s Impact On On The Advertising Industry

9/11′s Impact On On The Advertising Industry

Posted on July 30, 2003 and read 9,508 times

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This is a weary topic, if only because the weight of attribution borne by 9/11 is both historically disproportionate and inflated, but more so because it dulls the reality of what preceded it.

In fact, the world of advertising is no different today than it was September 10th, 2001. It was then, as it is today, in considerable difficulty.

The 9/11 horror and the visible meltdown in corporate behaviors have only served to expose a truth which predates 9/11 by 2000 years or so. Namely, that humanity continues to ignore the depth and knowledge required in building and sustaining relationships, customer, political or, otherwise.

We persist in retreating behind declarations rather than behaviors.

And then to our collective dismay, we blink into the harsh sun of reality, wondering why we are misunderstood, unappreciated and undervalued.

So what of the ‘advertising’ industry’s behaviors? Mr. Jacques Duval, the current Institute of Canadian Advertising (ICA) Chairman, pulled few punches when he spoke at the ICA’s AGM. Some of the symptoms of the overall malaise he identified were:

• The lack of a “universally, client-accepted Integrated Communications Model”
• Volatile, unpredictable client/agency relationships and remuneration vulnerabilities
• Absence of CEO involvement with agencies beyond the selection process
• Access to CEO’s that ‘other’ professional groups seem to enjoy

These are not insignificant observations or challenges and strongly hint at the fact that agencies have, or are on the verge of losing a place at the table of influence and visible relevance.

While I applaud his candor, I’m concerned that the ICA’s ‘overarching’ goal is to “help change the way clients at the highest corporate level place a value on their agencies.”

Allowing Mr. Duvall to place the burden of change on himself and the ICA Board is illusory at best. ICA members and non-members must heed the reasons why we are feeling beleaguered and ‘less loved.’

Advertising is overvalued, and therefore under-delivers

Let’s begin with a very fundamental debate. How valuable is our actual contribution and in whose eyes, theirs or ours?

Where is our sense of strategic context, if not humility? The ‘advertising budget’ is often the first head to roll in an economic downturn. Are CEO’s and CFO’s wrong to view advertising as a variable cost vs. a required and sustainable investment? Not really, because we’ve not presented a compelling case otherwise.

Furthermore, the business luminaries of the day, Larry Bossidy, Jim Clancy and many others continue to write tomes about the true signposts and measures of our client’s successes or failures. They may be wrapped in 2002 Christmas paper, but they are ancient reminders of the basics, Strategic Focus, Quality, Human Capital and Execution.

Of the recently named ‘Best 50 Managed Companies’ in Canada, the stated and repetitive recipe for success leapt out from the pages of their books. Advertising received one mention in the entire supplement.

Ask those clients who are reeling from the recession or have been downgraded to junk bond status, whether advertising could have prevented the fall, or more importantly will inspire the recovery. Until we understand the business of their business, very few CEO’s will accord the industry more ‘status’ than it deserves.

We accept advertising assignments with precious little debate on whether advertising should even occur.

We’re looking through the wrong end of the telescope. If we want to enjoy the ‘respect’ seemingly enjoyed by our ‘competitors’, the dreaded consultants, then we best start behaving like good consultants do. Know their businesses and talk about business, offering ideas that may have absolutely nothing to do with advertising outcomes.

Bad for business?

No! In the last four years, our firm’s business consulting practice has urged 15 plus clients to abandon or delay ‘quick draw’ advertising solutions for better considered strategic outlooks and/ or further research.

The results have been extremely gratifying for our clients and ourselves, resulting in far more robust business strategies and ultimately far better and more impactful communications.

Saying no, is strategically sound and profitable.

We have turned our backs on establishing a leadership role in accumulating meaningful insights into our customer’s business.

In the mid 70’s, our Toronto agency had a robust research department devoted to providing clients with proprietary or added value research and knowledge. Not many of those around today.

Without having a strategic partnership role or primary responsibility for gathering data, and analyzing it, it should not be a surprise that we are viewed as the tactical piece of the string using other, more ‘strategic thinkers’, to show the way.

We have allowed the agency selection process to degenerate into the sum total of a free brain drain and/or a frantic one-hour popularity contest.

I’m hard-pressed to think of many other professions who allow their value and potential relationships to be assessed so arbitrarily. It is more than common for a host of agencies to parade into a room, one after the other, with little or sometimes no prior contact with a panel of arbiters, who then ask for a ‘brain-dump’. For free!

If we behave as though they’re spot bidding on a bushel of cabbages, no wonder CEO’s look at the process as something that probably could be purchased on e-bay.

The commission system still exists as a screaming reminder that our value is tied to how much a client spends rather than the intellectual impact we generate.

The integrity of ones recommendations shouldn’t be co-mingled with a corresponding relationship to dollar volume upside or downside. Charging a percentage of the value of the overall transaction, in no way measures or values the intellectual integrity of what has been put into the transaction in the first place.

If we’re so insightful and valuable, then let’s value the intellectual outputs accordingly.

We work in isolation of other disciplines.

We are a notoriously self-absorbed lot and, over the years, furiously guarded our client ‘jurisdictions’, keeping a wary eye on interlopers, who might dilute influence, or threaten the agency ‘share of wallet’.

Clients need to be far less tolerant of our capacity for building silos, if they are to get integrated solutions. We might find that by creating a culture of inclusiveness with other ‘competitors’, consultants, partners, we might actually enhance our own fortunes, let alone our clients.

The current composition of the ICA board is worth examining within this context.

Back to 9/11

If the advertising industry and its principal agents, agencies aspire to a more valued role, then 9/11 may yet be a significant milestone. It should be seen as a harsh gaze into how relationships and behaviors should really be judged.

Words such as adding value, business drivers and accountability, are either within our respective business propositions or not. Rhetoric and awards are not the criteria. They never really were. We just get dressed up to pretend they are proof of our relevance.

So, if the advertising industry has the courage, humility and resolve, to re-examine its value proposition and turn the telescope around, we may see the day when the CEO’s assign to us the respect we feel we are currently being denied.

But, for those who think Mr. Duval and I are seeing ghosts that don’t exist; their clients will get precisely the advertising they deserve, and advertising agencies will continue to nibble on the crusts of credibility.

Mark Pigott is the President of Ogilvy & Mather (Calgary) and the Founder of Brand Insights Group a strategic consulting firm. (This article first appeared in the new and amazing Calgary magazine Show Off)




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