The Key to Surviving a Recession Is Adaptability

An Ad Age Editorial

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Marketers, media and agencies will have to adapt if they are going to survive this recession. Hunkering down or simply spending more money won't be enough.

By this point, abject fear seems to have given way to resignation and grim determination. There are those who take comfort in the fact that while we may have never lived through something quite like this, others have lived through worse. It's not very hard to see the similarities between the times we live in and the economic wasteland of the U.S. in the 1930s.

Back then, everyone was forced to do more with less. Budgets were tightened, salaries and staff cut, perks done away with.

They made it through, the thinking goes, and we likely will make it through as well.

But that sort of complacency overlooks the vast number of businesses -- including those once considered category leaders -- that did not survive previous upheavals, and ignores the effect such upheavals had on the business landscape in general.

In his revisiting of Roland Marchand "Advertising the American Dream: Making Way for Modernity 1920-1940," James Arndorfer notes that the Great Depression transformed advertising and the ad business. What was once almost an elegant world of gentleman's agreements was transformed into the brash, cutthroat business that we now know and love. Pricing and value became key. Direct-mail practitioners applied their skills to other advertising disciplines.

Smart marketers didn't simply advertise more during the Depression; they advertised more intelligently.

And while we seem to be avoiding anything as serious as the Great Depression (so far), today's businesses are faced with a more challenging landscape as technology reshapes the space. (It's hard to imagine shape of marketing if TV had taken off during the Depression.)

One more mention of the phrase "fractured media environment" might be enough to have some execs jumping out of buildings. Many are undoubtedly sick of hearing about Web 2.0, social media, iPhone apps, web video, time shifting and consumers in control.

But those are the new realities that demand adaptation. A bad economy is no excuse to give up on evolution. Those who do have decided to lumber around with the dinosaurs -- and we all know how that ended.

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