Holding Tight To TV

Ad Age executive editor, Jonah Bloom, questions why big agencies are so slow to adapt in today’s adapt-or-die business environment.

Despite an overwhelming mass of evidence that their business models are fatally flawed and their service offerings out of step with many marketers’ demands, the biggest agencies have done remarkably little to substantially reinvent themselves. It doesn’t seem to matter how many of their clients shift projects or even full-scale brand assignments to smaller, nimbler, flatter structured, less-30-second centric agencies, the biggest agencies seem reluctant to really blow up their model.
All the big ad agencies still have layers and layers of bureaucracy, rampant job-title inflation and hundreds of people whose chief role seems to be managing up. Their product has barely changed (you could count the genuinely big ideas from the last 12 months on one hand), and I’ve heard at least three separate first-hand reports of people within those organizations who’ve had good non-TV ideas for a client being told that they’d have to be turned into TV commercials before they could be pitched.

One big player seems ready to adapt. Lee Clow said TBWA/Chiat/Day should see itself not as an ad agency, but rather as a media-arts company.
Bloom questions the business model, while saluting Clow’s moxie.
To me, the changes underway appear rather simple. We’re in the customer engagement business today. TV is one place where engagement occurs, so it’s survival is assured. The real difficulty seems to be reordering the pyramid of power. TV has enjoyed a long run at the top, and many people have their earnings and professional reputations tied to it. The thing is, no one cares—not me, not increasingly exasperated clients and most of all, not the consumer.

About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative direction at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.