Archive for April, 2009

wither thy ad agency

Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio

In Adage April 29, there was an article about the 4A’s rebranding – “No More Remembering What All Those A’s Stand For”. For years known as the American Association of Advertising Agencies, it has officially traded its name for its more commonly used acronym, the 4A’s.

Tom Carroll, president-CEO of TBWA Worldwide and outgoing chairman of the 4A’s, said this morning that the ad business has become too splintered, and media agencies and creative agencies must reconvene at the same table.

“We should all be in the same place, in the same room, because it’s all the same issue,” he said. Mr. Carroll added that consolidation of industry conferences and seminars is a must, given the economic pressures agencies face today, as sheer volume isn’t sustainable anymore from a cost perspective.

Ms. Hill criticized the group’s former name, saying aside from being a mouthful, it reflected the organization’s history of focusing solely on the business of American ad agencies. She announced that the 4A’s is opening up membership to international agencies effective this year, and will also offer membership to educational institutions for the first time so they can take part in the group and access 4A’s materials.
These moves come as the 4A’s — under the leadership of Ms. Hill, who took the helm last year — attempts to transform from a stodgy organization into a group that’s relevant to the rapidly changing agency landscape.

A couple of interesting ideas are encapsulated in this communique. Despite all of the discussions about agencies getting their acts together and recognizing the way that they need to handle the content and ad campaigns with different types of media the following remains true:

  • Agencies are largely managed as media silos, despite all of the rhetoric, primarily because the systems used in most agencies are not integrated.
  • Consolidating media and production budgets across mediums and across campaigns is difficult on an ongoing basis.
  • Standards for electronic media buying do not really exist (with the exception of cable and web), they have been stuck in committees for years. Neither agencies nor vendors can agree. So much of the buying is manual.
  • Systems for managing content and production are sparse. Workflows are largely manual, even if you do count homegrown traffic databases and spreadsheets.

So what do the agencies do? They just keep cutting costs, and start ‘new creative shops’ that grow up with the same problems and then get acquired, exacerbating the problem. This is unsustainable, and is becoming an inhibitor to growth. As scale of targeted advertising (volume) and the imperatives of dealing with multimedia (integration) become even more a requirement to daily operations, what’s being done? I think it is time for agencies to really wake up and fundamentally accept the changes that technology has imposed upon their business, and focus on solving those changes by leveraging technology…

Changing your name may be recognition that times have changed, but admitting your problems and focusing on doing things differently is far more important.

Used to be a great, fun business. Now I’m not so sure.

Tell me it isn’t so… I’m listening.

April 30, 2009 at 7:59 am 2 comments


I fell down in the desert baby, yeah
I had nothing but a peice of paper, oh yeah,
I had to write something down,
And I found myself alone, then I let go of everything,
Into another dimension

Another year and another NAB. Although I typically post on a Thursday, I was dragging by the end of the show. Getting home late after such a draining exercise was a great reason to postpone any writing effort.

NAB2009 South Hall lower, looking back towards upper level

NAB2009 South Hall lower, looking back towards upper level

A couple of observations.

Attendance was down. No surprise. But the interesting side-effect of this was that the quality of the meetings I had, on average was far better, with more engaged people. There were fewer tire kickers.
Time was important. Most NABs, people are late for meetings, if they show up at all. This year, for some reason, I cannot think of one scheduled meeting that was late or cancelled.
3D is here. Seems as though most other stuff was about speeds and feeds, or derivatives of existing products and processes. However, there was a real lot of innovation happening in the 3D world, focused on production, presentation technologies and general focus on getting this technology to the consumer. It’s just around the corner folks.
Business Models. Sun held our Media Advisory Board and the topic was on advanced advertising. I was amazed at the level of interest, the degree to which some organizations are investing and building their business models around it, and most importantly, the lack of common language as to what it all means. Even our friends in the advertising world are not in agreement. Sun also conducted a test of a pilot Video As a Service for IPTV delivery.

Video as a Service test pilot at NAB2009

Video as a Service test pilot at NAB2009

The economy. Every year at NAB there is a job board, but this year, it was busier than ever.

    One of the many job boards at NAB2009

    One of the many job boards at NAB2009

    Tell me it isn’t so… I’m listening.

    Looking forward to seeing you all next year.

    April 24, 2009 at 9:44 am Leave a comment

    occidental, oriental, new and old

    While holy men in shadowed calm retreats
    Pray through the night and watch the stars,
    A lonely plane flies off to meet the dawn,
    While down below the busy life goes on,
    And women crowd the old bazaars;

    It’s just about NAB time once again, and as I pack my bags, I thought I’d reflect on last September when I was visiting with some customers in India. It just so happened that during the weekend of my stay, Broadcast India 2008 was in full swing. Naturally, this was a great opportunity to visit and see first hand how things had changed since my last visit to this fantastic country about nine years ago.

    It’s Saturday morning and I arrive at the show with my local host. The exhibition complex is like an old series of warehouses in a compound, surrounded by a high concrete fence – about 10ft tall. There is a main gate with an elaborate, very modern looking sign indicating Broadcast India 2008. We drive through the gate and wind left, dodging people, auto-rickshaws, parked cars and motorbikes.  As we make our way towards hall 6, my colleague instructs the driver to stop and ask where one registers. The car stops. Right there. Right in the middle of the road. The driver puts his captain’s hat on, and walks over to the security guard in a very officious manner, exchanges a few words, and comes back. He tells us to get out of the car. For a split second, I wonder what is going on, then I realize that just above the entrance sign it says “registration”. We get out and head towards the show.

    Such a strange place. Security guards who desperately try  to manage traffic and the chaotic parking, patrolling the entrance sporting long canes. Were they walking sticks or were they the remnants of British authority that had been handed down to these surrogates of order? Trees were painted with both brown and white – to keep the bugs from crawling up? It’s very shady and pleasant. There is a buzz in the air, very reminiscent of the earliest computer trade shows I attended in Sydney as a student. They were modest. These were more than modest.

    Registration was a pretty straightforward process. Simply take a form, check all of the attributes that apply to you (so that they can send you junk emails), and attach your business card. I get an official badge and lanyard and embark on my voyage of discovery. It’s not a big show. Walking at a leisurely pace, you could cover the booths in less than an hour. This is what I do. I make a fly by and take a few photos, while my colleague catches up with old friends.

    He asks my impression of the show.

    “Quite impressive”, I reply.

    In fact it is. Although it generally looks pretty tacky by occidental standards, there is one characteristic that does not escape my attention. Youth. There is a swarm of young people eager to see, experience, absorb and learn everything they can. Media is a seductive industry. It has opportunities that span from from producing content through to distributing it. It has that cachet of being hip and close to pop culture. It is a natural magnet for youth.

    Compared to the west, where there is a generation of  self indulgent ‘video engineers’ clinging on until retirement comes, here in emerging markets, it would seem as though the technically literate youth is making its own rules and competing with raw energy. I catch up with  few business partners, visit the booth of my former employer and catch up with a few old colleagues from past days. It truly is a small world. I seem to be going through business cards like sand through my fingers. Eventually I’d had enough and headed for the exit.

    Nonetheless, as I stood there, peering back that the sign, I saw hundreds of people shuffling to the entrance and leaving through the exit. I wondered how they all managed to look past the mess and managed to focus on the objective – to learn. This was not the NAB of India. NAB is all glitz and sizzle. Here the gear had been flown in from IBC just a few weeks earlier. It had been show tested, it was a little more robust than the usual demoware that you glimpse between the glitzy distractions in the main western shows. This was stuff that companies actually used, wanted, and wanted to learn about.

    And perhaps that was what it was all about anyway…

    Tell me it isn’t so… I’m listening.

    April 16, 2009 at 4:49 pm Leave a comment

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