wither thy ad agency

April 30, 2009 at 7:59 am 2 comments

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.


Entry filed under: Media, Uncategorized. Tags: , , , , , , .

NAB2009 thinking about IPTV

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Tim P  |  May 5, 2009 at 11:47 am

    The bottom line is that creatives can’t handle structure, and process is anathema. Better to ignore the past that didn’t work and just invent something new. Picasso didn’t plan for growth, or understand distribution channels and target audiences. It will probably take a yet-to-be-discovered industry model to change anything in this business.

    And so it is…

    • 2. tbugir  |  May 8, 2009 at 12:19 pm

      Not sure it is just about the creatives. Many agencies (and quite certainly all full-service agencies) have four types inhabiting their corridors. They are the creatives, the suits, the media types and the administration/management. Getting them all working together well is always an interesting challenge. My issue is more fundamental, and one to which you allude i.e. the agency model itself, and frankly the topic was all about that – where do they go to from here… I don’t have the answer, but more importantly, all I see is lip service about how they’re really looking at the problem. Perhaps they are, and perhaps I don’t know. But I do know that they’ve been ‘looking’ at the problem for years, getting nowhere, and not really fundamentally addressing the tsunami that awaits. In the meantime, it has been business as usual. Perhaps print media will send them a wake up call!


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