Let’s see . . . we have an economic poopstorm that boasts a ferocity and a set of complicating factors unlike any before, and despite the well-documented importance of continuing to spend on advertising when times are tough, clients haven’t uniformly heeded that bit of wisdom. Then there is the nature of the huge, public agency model and the stresses it places on the ad process and, potentially, on agency/client relations. As one creative honcho recently quipped, creatives should not be talking multiples in meetings! As agencies must work to the bottom-line demands of the street, managing their core business becomes a special challenge. While agencies have had to undertake extensive acquisition activity, they face the same bugaboo that confounded the media giants: Where’s the synergy? Only, agencies enjoy perhaps even fewer of the advantages supposedly afforded by the conglomerate model. As WPP head Martin Sorrell pointed out recently, there are in fact dis-economies of scale in a creative business. One of the biggest challenges now for agencies is integrating the fleets of services they’ve added, and, in addition, understanding what clients mean by integration. Is it the pursuit and development of sound strategies across all media channels or is it an organizational means of achieving cost savings? Integration can mean different things to different people, but what do any of them mean to the nurturing and production of the creative product?
All of this is added, of course, to the usual production challenges -- the undercutting, the cost of building and keeping talent, etc. Yet, from a creativity standpoint, this is exactly the time when things get interesting. Gone is the spongy layer of '90s flab. A lean and mean industry faces a massively trying time, and the quest for integration and continued relevance should mean new ideas and new approaches and, in an ideal world, victory to the courageous thinker. Somehow it all makes doing crap advertising that much harder to forgive.
Coming off the Cannes festival, debates raged about the various merits (or lack thereof) of prize-winning work. (And who am I not to jump on the Club 18-30 Print Grand Prix train of debate: It seems real simple. If you like the ad, as I do, it probably means you giggle when someone says penal colony and you’re somewhere in the age vicinity of the club’s target audience -- if not physically, than emotionally. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re from outside North America nor does the ad signal the death of creativity as we know it.) But there was enough great work to remind everyone of what it looks like. (There was additional controversy about the recognition and classification of BMW Films -- which the optimist might interpret as a good sign of some growing pains, perhaps?)
We like debates over ads. They mean that the trials and the changes of the industry haven’t sucked the fight out of you -- a good thing because you’ll need it.
(Teressa Iezzi is the editor of Creativity. This letter appears in the July/August issue.)