BRING COMMON SENSE BACK INTO THE AD BIZ

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Philip K. Howard's thought-provoking work, "The Death of Common Sense," has attracted a rare level of bipartisan support from the public sector. Political opposites like Republican Sen. Robert Dole and Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles have made it mandatory reading for their respective camps. It should also be required reading for anyone in the advertising business, and particularly those in leadership roles.

The book's genius is its description of a gradual but relentless pendulum swing in the focus of the American political and judicial system, away from accountability, judgment and leadership and toward the quagmire of process, regulation and bureaucracy. This swing, almost imperceptible year to year, has over time created a gargantuan, stifling beast with tendrils that reach deep into the corporate world and constantly tries to suffocate creativity, innovation and decision-making.

The very same forces at work in government and throughout society have also changed the character of the advertising business for the worse, and made the job Mr. Pazzani is chief marketing officer of the Brockway Group, New York.

of creating effective and original advertising seem more like trying to pass a national healthcare plan.

My experience on the client side, and in agencies large and small, has given me a perspective from which to assess the state of the advertising business through Mr. Howard's analysis of government, and to recommend a few solutions. I have three for starters:

1. Stop depending on consultants to run agency reviews. Hiring an advertising agency is a very important strategic decision, so on the surface it would seem to make sense to bring in some expert assistance. However, using a consultant tends to absolve client management from the responsibility to actually make a decision. When the consultant is long gone, the client and agency have an important and difficult job to do that usually bears little resemblance to anything that went on during the pitch.

If a review is unavoidable, have it led by the best and brightest advertising talents in your marketing department. Challenge them to make an inspired decision and then give them the ability to make it work. The magnitude of this decision is too great to entrust to an outsider.

2. Stop depending on inexperienced junior people to screen ideas for senior management. The convoluted process of presenting advertising ideas "up through the organization" virtually guarantees that the most original, innovative ideas will die a quick death while the safe, derivative and "bullet-proof" ones survive. The serendipity that produces so many creative breakthroughs doesn't stand a chance.

One effect of corporate downsizing is that clients and agencies alike have fewer people and fewer layers involved in the advertising process. This will automatically eliminate some of the excessive filtering of ideas that inhibits creativity.

The best ideas need to be exposed in raw form to the people most capable of evaluating them in a meaningful context and shaping them to meet marketing objectives. This means senior managers need to play an active, involved role in the generation and review of ideas, while at the same time involving and teaching less experienced managers.

3. Stop depending on research to If a great idea somehow survives the bureaucratic screening process in a large corporation, delegating the decision to research results will almost surely cause its demise. Companies that pick advertising campaigns based on the highest research scores get what they deserve: a false sense of security about mediocre advertising.

As a tool for people with refined skills, sound judgment and strategic sense, research can generate, shape and enhance creative ideas and be an aid to decision-making. But in the wrong hands, research stalls and stifles originality while simultaneously removing any accountability for personal decision-making.

The best advertising invariably begins when a company's marketing leaders have the courage to look beyond the research, make the tough decision and accept personal responsibility and accountability for their actions.

Philip Howard's key premise is that government has become so distracted by process and procedure, it has lost sight of right and wrong. In trying to devise perfect systems that solve every problem, and write procedures for every possible circumstance, it has diminished the importance of the human elements in the equation: leadership, judgment, creativity. The advertising and marketing community would be well advised to see the parallels.

"The Death of Common Sense" is a great treatise and has much to offer introspective client and agency executives alike. We participate in an industry that has the highest regard for the human side of the business and rewards speed, innovation and boldness. Perhaps this book can help to push the pendulum back in the other direction.

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