2004's gift: Time to face the issues

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Stop waiting for the recovery. This is it. Many of the lost jobs are not coming back, but the ad market and the wider economy still should see growth in 2004. A decent outlook for business brings with it the opportunity, and imperative, to address vexing long-term issues facing all sectors of the advertising economy.

In 2003, the economy in the third quarter grew at its fastest pace in nearly 20 years and, for the year, the stock market soared more than 25%. Yet it hardly feels like boom times. Nearly half of consumers in Lightspeed Research's latest Ad Age survey believe "we're not out of the woods yet" (see P. 1), and the Conference Board's consumer confidence index fell in December. The big problem is jobs. The U.S. economy added jobs under every president dating to Franklin Roosevelt. Since President Bush was elected, more than 2 million jobs have disappeared.

The recession technically ended more than two years ago. Over the past 50 years, expansions have averaged 61 months (or until December 2006 for this one). Note to pessimists: Recessions began in the year following six of the past 13 presidential elections-a vote for a downturn in 2005. Yet 2004 should be an up year; recessions began in presidential election years only twice since 1950.

There are positive signs for advertising. Last year brought war, uncertainty and financial pressures -and, still, ad spending in 2003 broke the record set in the dot-comic irrational exuberance of 2000. But marketers need better, smarter and quicker selling and branding solutions. Agencies must prove they can produce bankable intelligence rather than just ads. Media must better demonstrate return on investment and prepare for emerging technologies such as digital TV.

2004 should be comparatively easy. The future is harder. Now is the time to reset your product, your marketing, your company and your career to address long-term opportunity.

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