Back in the day, the advertising field was populated by a scattering of small but innovative firms—little knots of original thought, whose output was impressive for its cleverness, if not for its efficiency. But that cottage industry has evolved with time, consolidating into corporate leviathans with global scale and massive reach.
What got lost in the translation was the necessity for the concurrent adoption, in this evolutionary process, of a corporate-minded approach.
It’s a vast and wildly generalized thing to say, but ad agencies aren’t run like other businesses are. They are idea factories; precious little clutches of genius, too often too engaged in the business of reinventing the wheel to appreciate the value of tuning the engine. But an advertising agency, for all its creative chaos, is every bit the business as the electronics superstore or the accounting firm. Make money or die.
As Don Draper can readily attest, the ad business had its heyday a half century ago. An exploding middle class with postwar dollars to spend was an enthusiastic convert to any number of brands, and the advertising agencies that sprang up to facilitate this exchange have today become the éminences grise of the place. Mass communication pioneers like David Ogilvy, Bill Bernbach and Leo Burnett reinvented the industry muscularly and set impressive standards for advertising, cunning that some would argue have never been equaled.
Fast forward to current day – the digital revolution has come and stayed, bringing with it rewritten rules for every corner of the business. We sell advertising differently now, buy it differently, produce it differently, regard it differently. On top of that, corporate clients are pushing harder than ever for cost consciousness and efficiency from their agency partners.
But the business models that oversee the industry have not enjoyed similar revision. Add the recession’s bitter legacy to the scene and cover your ears: there’s a battle cry for a new way of conducting business in the air.
The days when agency management could afford to administrate in the same kind of paper-shuffling, improvised, responsiveness-is-everything fashion that made their creative departments so fruitful are gone. Today’s corporate climate demands a system, particularly in light of the digitally distributed workforces that populate it.
If you don’t have one, get one. Fast. And if you don’t know how, well, just ask.
Departments must be linked to one another; communication must be instant; management must be in a position to provide feedback and direction in a meaningful, effective way; agencies need to be able to pledge protection of clients’ sensitive client data—and reassure clients that their systems are up to the task. And so on.
Automation, in this revised agency reality, must be king.
Those industry participants who understand the value of a comprehensive revolution, who appreciate the need for adopting an entirely new way of conducting business, who are prepared to enact wholesale change in their operations such that business success will equal creative success, these are the next generation of advertising superstars.