People who make advertising their profession are often optimistic and idealistic. I think this is a great way to be, as long as it doesn’t cloud your vision.
There is a time for optimism and a time for realistic assessments of reality. And pandemic or no, clouded thinking mixed with delusions of grandeur are bad for business.
Gartner Suggests Holistic Planning
Here’s a dose of clear thinking from my friend Augie Ray.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is forcing businesses to react at a breakneck speed.
The Gartner for Marketers team of analysts and advisors have recommended our clients develop COVID-19 scenarios to help plan for a range of possible outcomes. Any single scenario will get it wrong in meaningful ways that could leave your company and its brands unprepared. Instead, weigh a spectrum of potential situations ranging from best- to worst-case. That way, you can prepare the actions, communications, and data you need and be prepared to act in any circumstance. The key to exiting reactive mode and protecting your brand is to prepare now for every plausible development.
Key takeaway: Prepare the actions, communications, and data you need and be prepared to act in any circumstance.
“Crisis Comms” Does Not Mean “No Comms”
I keep seeing communications professionals who are intent on advising brands to tone it down or turn it off. There’s a plea to be sensitive.
I don’t disagree with the advice, but I’m also not impressed by it. Bad, me-centric, chest-pounding advertising is always bad. Now, as before. So, the move to make today is a permanent shift to more wholesome and highly valued communications.
Answer this over and over in your communications: HOW CAN I SERVE and WHY DOES IT MATTER to the customer?
Identify What No Longer Matters (And Dump It)
I’ve used this platform to call industry award shows what they are—sausage fests where you pay for the drinks and the trophies.
Who the fuck cares https://t.co/XWLwLrpDZE
— Mira Crisp (@misscrisp) March 23, 2020
When things get back to a new normal, the budget for vanity hardware isn’t going to be there.
I’ve joked before (along with Dan Goldgeier and others) that the best way to make money in advertising is to start an awards show. Because, if there is one thing that ad people can count on, it’s the insecurity and vanity of their colleagues.
But that was then…
Digital Disruption Was the Preparation for Now
Who can deliver marketing services at the highest level without all the meetings, the expensive real estate, the award show vanities, the outrageous lunches, and box seats? https://t.co/kA8VjpQZSU
— Bonehook (@bonehook) March 21, 2020
There hasn’t been much room for waste in client budgets for many years. Now, there is no room whatsoever. The providers who survive from here on will be the humble ad men and women who are truly dedicated to serving their client’s needs.
I believe that there is a large opportunity here for honest assessments of everything—every process, every client’s profitability, and every staffer’s productivity. Clients need business-building ideas now more than ever. But no one, clients included, has a tolerance for the layers of bullshit that tend to come with. Take hourly billing as just one example. Who wants to go on an extended taxi ride with the agency? No one I know.
Flat fee billing and standardization and publication of rates would be helpful. I had a prospective client last year ask me why his RFP for a new website received responses from $5K to $250K. He was justifiably confused by the range.
Ain’t No Bread in the Breadbox
For years, ad agencies made money by placing media and marking it up 15%. In other words, we gave our best thinking and craftwork away for free. Digital blew a massive hole in that O.G. paywall.
Today, we are paid for our thinking and ability to make things. The question going forward is the amount of pay that we will receive for these services. I’m suggesting that industry-wide compensation will be significantly reduced from today’s levels.
I would find my argument here chilling if I relied on the agency system for a sustainable income. When I was an agency staffer, I was laid off or fired, four of seven times. I learned that there is no job security in the ad business. Clients come and go like the seasons. I learned this again when I opened my own brand communications studio. The lesson for service providers is clear—do not rely on longterm client engagements. Instead, develop project-based systems that are highly flexible and adaptable.
What do I mean by this, exactly? I mean the new solutions won’t be like the old solutions. The old way was to pay a bunch of people to gather in an architecturally-significant downtown office where advertising gets made. The overhead for this real estate is immense, as anyone who pays the agency’s lease and utilities will testify.
The new way isn’t a fullscale move to distributed teams. It is a new elevated allowance for, and real marketplace desire for, distributed teams. Like movie studios, the agencies of the future will be aggregators of teams that can assemble and disassemble. This is exactly how films are made, and there’s no reason why ads can’t be made this way too.
Talent Now, Talent Tomorrow, Talent Forever
Here’s the encouraging part of this…talent wins. Talent wins because talent is the core offering. With no money to waste, clients will no longer be able to afford their agency of old. The fancy offices and long meetings full of agency workers billing hours won’t work now. It’s too damn expensive.
Flat fee billing and small distributed teams. No award show submissions. Travel only when necessary…
It may sound horrid to the fattest of cats. To me, it sounds like survival and an excellent time to remake the ad industry for the 21st century.