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Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Working in 2010?

Talk of how advertising and marketing agencies need to shape themselves for the future seems to be a constant of agency-life. I sometimes wonder if it was always like that, people looking for something new, something emergent, something different?

What really surprises me, and I guess gets people talking, is how Direct Marketing and Advertising agencies seem to reject the opportunity to engage the public in new and more creative ways. It's not just putting the idea online as well as in print. It's thinking differently about how an idea can be shaped, transmitted, reversioned and magnified. We seem to intellectually accept that the 'consumer' is no longer 'consuming' in the way they used to, that control and co-creativity have been enabled by the web and that communities are connecting online. But still people fall back on print and TV.

There's no doubt that the structures of many of the businesses we work in can be resistant to change. But they seem resistant to the way the market is moving. And this has a commercial impact, the Ad agencies enjoy margins of less than 10%, whilst so-called Below the Line agencies can achieve 15-20%. You'd think that money would talk? That people might see that together something of far greater value could be created. Certainly it's true that web design firms are hiring old-world marketing professionals to beef up their offering, but why aren't the big firms really grasping the change by the throat?

Leo de Bono talks about how the mind is like water running over a rock. Slowly the water wears a groove into the rock and over time, the river can go no other way. This makes a lot of sense to me. People get stuck in ruts, often they don't know they're in one. But what is it that makes people so resistant to change? Perhaps its the comfort of knowing what you're doing. But you would hope agencies aren't so conservative. Perhaps it's the system - the awards, the management structures, the bonus schemes, the senior managment who grew up in an age before Instant Messenger, before Email even. Is the system inimical to the creation of new ways of working and new kinds of work?

I'm divided on what to DO about it though. Is it better tobe a fifth column working from within, or to stand outside the edifice and try to pull it down? If all this talk sounds a bit revolutionary, then you can blame the book I am reading, a novel on the French Revolution. What struck me in the book was how the Old Regime in France was unable to accept that the system in which people had operated all their lives was false, narrow and "wicked".

There is hope though. People are talking about the desire to create change. Surely that's the first step. My view is that a few of us together, even working on small projects can cumulatively create a bigger sea-change in the way agencies operate. Also, time is on our side; eventually the old order will retire and the new paradigm will be established.

There are a few businesses who appear to be trying to do things differently. To talk about new ways of engaging the public, new ways of interacting with customers. They aren't media biased. But they do hire media and craft specialists in as required. They aren't afraid to create intellectual properties that they can sell to their clients. They're forward thinking, brave and interesting. They are often modern versions of production companies (the people who already realised that you can run a successful freelance model).

It makes me think of Russell Davies' view of a marketing world peopled by Ronin-like planners (those Samurai hired hands) "It won't be long before groups of creative, strategic and executional Ronin become effective competitors to established agencies".

Anyway, have a look at these guys;

The Law Firm - Andy Law's new outfit, talking nodal networks and open source creativity
Anomaly - New York based agency moving beyond the stereotypes
4 Creative - Channel 4's in-house creative team
The Barbarian Group - US digital production outfit
Open Intelligence Agency - Russell Davies' mates operating virtually together