How did this come about? As agencies search for answers, they should spend some time looking in the mirror. Agencies have successfully sold everyone's product but their own. In the process of making the company's product a hero, they made little effort to promote themselves in the face of growing criticism.
To understand how agencies can begin to correct this situation, look first at where clients and advertisers originate. Clients are the suits who went to B-schools and studied the 4 Ps. They conducted case studies and developed an arsenal of empirical measures with econometrics, accounting and statistics. They studied flow charts, decision support systems and management theory. Most sought big-bucks careers and the perceived job security of a corporate setting.
By contrast, advertising is most often taught in journalism schools that focus on "mass media." If advertising is part of marketing, and marketing is part of business, then why isn't advertising taught in B-schools? If advertising is taught at all, it is mentioned only peripherally as part of a grab bag of marketing courses required for graduation rather than illumination.
Unfortunately, the rift between business students and communication majors who study advertising has drifted into two continents of knowledge. Each has their own jargon and journals for research which is rarely read by the opposing camp. They also recruit their own brand of professors.
It's now possible for an MBA student to emerge from a B-school without any exposure to advertising. They are never told of the countless examples where advertising transformed obscure products into industry leaders. No wonder these marketing professionals favor alternative methods of marketing that provide a higher level of comfort.
While some of the blame for advertising's steady losses can be placed at the feet of universities, advertising agencies must share the responsibility. How often do agencies allow their staffs time off to address B-school students? If time is the issue, why haven't agencies banded together and supplied free videos to B-schools telling of their accomplishments? Agencies should demand equal time from those who take issue over advertising's methods and those who argue the wisdom of marketing alternatives.
Many advertising agencies haven't realized that clients are like friends-if you ignore them, you will one day awaken to find you no longer have one. All clients were once students, and investing our efforts in them at the earliest stages will promote an enhanced outlook later in their careers.
The road to recovery will necessitate a greater commitment by agencies to their clients when they are still in school. If the advertising community sponsors an advertising club on campus, or sends a letter encouraging a visit to an agency, there will be a shift in thinking and a profitable future. If an agency isn't offering an open house at least once a year to MBAs in its area, then it can't complain when those clients-in-training squawk at its advertising proposals five years later.
As we enter a new academic year, let's hope a few more business students are invited to our party.
Mr. Sims is an account executive at CRE, an ad agency in Indianapolis.