Don't start singing the blues just yet

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Six months ago, many wondered if the advertising party was over. In this case, saying the party is over is a bit like saying rock 'n' roll is dead. You run the risk of looking like a pessimistic geek and 10 years down the line the Rolling Stones turn your words into a serving of humble pie.

Advertising is a cultural and economic phenomenon much like any musical genre. But, in the long term, what some analysts have interpreted as an industry lull may in fact be nothing more than an industry intermission.

This isn't to say that we aren't in the midst of less-than-desirable economic times, and it is not to diminish the real suffering of those whose careers are severely impacted by the twists and turns of Wall Street. But let's rethink the times before the so-called "bust."

It may sound like revisionist history, but there really was no "party time" for advertising. Sure, the last decade, and specifically the last year, was a time of record growth and profits, uncharted corporate territory, unbelievable creativity and an unprecedented demand for new branding campaigns. But to say the last decade was a party for our industry trivializes the amount of hard work and continuous, intelligent invention we have fostered and propelled. Despite the rather manic, obsessive-compulsive reputation that advertising endures, the core of the industry is not about celebrating excess or behaving with pagan abandon. The core of the industry has integrity and a commitment to communicate in innovative, tasteful and truthful ways with the consumer.

Let's not forget that modern advertising is a young industry just now reaching adolescence, and as we mature we are finding ways to weather the storms that soft economies bring. Unfortunately, wisdom comes only from experience.

Understandably, our attitude right now may be a bit reserved. Instead of the brash pronouncements and strutting of our stuff that comes so easily during abundant times, our tone is subtler now. Our "party line" has diminished to a question-"How low will the ad economy go?"

Until things turn around, how do we keep the faith? I'm preaching to the choir here, but despite a natural desire to hide from the storm, this is not the time to go underground. Now is the time to redefine advertising. Now is the time to invest in advertising. And now is the time to promote advertising. The American Advertising Federation's "Great Brands" campaign promotes the philosophy that advertising is "The Way Great Brands Get to Be Great Brands." This campaign was started when the economy looked solid and with no drop in sight. The message is especially timely now, but the message has been current for years. Advertising is essential for business.

We have been in the midst of awards seasons recently with the Addys, Clios and Cannes Lions. But this recognition of creativity in our industry is no mere back-patting exercise. More than ever, we must call upon all our creative resources to ensure we will come out of this time stronger than ever. How? By allowing ourselves the freedom to experiment and create with the same gusto as we did when times were flush with advertising spending. Now is the time to celebrate the creative chutzpah of our work force, not diminish it. At all costs, we must protect those creative forces within our industry.

And we must accept that to nurture such creativity, we must change the way we work. This is not a time to hold our ideas close to the vest; rather it is time to share our solutions with others. During competitive times this may seem counterintuitive. Yet now more than ever we have a common goal, and must look at this time as one to band together, to collaborate and to inspire new ways of flexing the awesome power of advertising. Media, agencies and corporate advertisers need to work in unison and on a common goal-to advance the business of advertising. This is the time when "party" takes on the definition of people united in a cause.

We need to move "convergence" from a buzzword into a reality. We must move branding into all media platforms, indeed creating altogether new platforms, accepting that this will now mean communicating with consumers through a diverse mix of devices, some comfortable and time-tested, and some revolutionary and experimental. Technology will continue to force change-and this means an exciting time of growth for advertising, providing a profound and lasting impact on our ability to communicate, to educate and to motivate.

The mythical "party time" for our industry may be past, but that doesn't mean we are not in a time of great opportunity or on the cusp of a whole new genre of business. This may not be a time of rock 'n' roll, but we shouldn't start singing the blues. This time of challenge could mean that if you can hold on, it may prove to be the ride of your life-and on the other side there awaits whole new ways of doing business that could prove more rewarding than ever. Maybe the party is just beginning.

Mr. Park is chairman of the American Advertising Federation, Washington, and CEO of DDB Worldwide Communications Group/Los Angeles.

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