Start marketing ourselves

The following column, which appears in every other issue, presents a counter-conventional look at contemporary advertising and marketing.In imposing limitations on the number of screens available for u.s.-produced movies, policymakers in France cited as one reason the desire to avoid 'Canadianization.'That...

The following column, which appears in every other issue, presents a counter-conventional look at contemporary advertising and marketing.

In imposing limitations on the number of screens available for u.s.-produced movies, policymakers in France cited as one reason the desire to avoid ‘Canadianization.’

That we have become an international symbol for succumbing is unsettling. Even more disturbing is the belief, voiced in recent months by several senior executives I have talked to, that it is inevitable that more and more Canadian marketing decisions will be made in the u.s.

The loss of a single marketing job means that yet another mid-level businessperson is unemployed, and probably left to join the crowded, yet desolate, ranks of consultants.

It also means that yet another slot has disappeared for fulfilling the financial and career expectations of a university student.

The type of job lost is one of those most coveted by society. Marketing represents one of the high value-added, high-imagination, advanced education jobs, that the economy of the future is to be based upon.

Government, already overspent and underfunded, loses valuable tax revenue. And the broader economy suffers the loss of someone who has enjoyed higher than average disposable income, and the general marketing responsiveness to use it.

Marketing people consume information. When one of the species vanishes, then the sources and suppliers of business information, and of information technology, have one less distribution point to serve.

Research houses, computer companies, software sellers, telephone providers, computer trainers, all lose a client, a user, an outlet.

Lower volume for these high-tech products and services destroys yet another precious iota of the nation’s ‘knowledge’ competitiveness.

Hard products are also affected. Thousands of copies of documents and letters will not be needed, affecting everyone from Grand & Toy to Xerox. Landlords lease less space. Druxy’s sells one less coffee, one less bagel.

The damage ripples out. When a decision-making job like that in marketing is lost, then all the people who are involved in those decisions are also impacted and diminished.

On the front line are the supplier companies such as ad agencies, promotions companies, package designers, sponsorship and event specialists, merchandise managers.

These, too, are the highly creative, high value-added jobs a modern economy so desperately needs. With one less platform to exercise their specific talent, and one less opportunity to earn revenue, these related jobs lose both promise and viability.

The marketing job is like the tip of the pyramid that supports its own base. When the tip is dislodged, the base crumbles.

No marketing client means, for companies such as ad agencies, no account people, no creative people, no media people. Again, it is not just the loss of jobs that is devastating, but it is the loss of the business imagination and creative jobs which are the cornerstones of the information economy

Fewer opportunities to work mean fewer opportunities to develop the world level quality of service that feeds and renews imagination and creativity.

No Canadian marketing client also means no Canadian production. Actors, directors, photographers, sound-makers, props people, post-production specialists, and all the other trades and technicians end up with one less opportunity to apply their craft, hone their skills, express their art.

Without the economic base provided by commercial work, many cannot practice their art at all.

To the ‘soft’ loss of art add the ‘hard’ loss of real revenue. Printing presses and studios may lose only one or two production projects a year. But less volume brings lower profits.

And with lower profits, investments in new technology becomes unfeasible. Without new technology, the viability of the business eventually fades.

The loss of intellectual work also goes upstream from the displaced marketing job. New products and line extensions are where new ideas and new technologies get advanced and tested.

Deprived of the marketing authority to invest in these ventures, yet another sector of the economy devoted to invention and innovation finds itself getting smaller.

The above scenario can be repeated for all the other supplier groups that have one less marketing job to serve.

The travel and hospitality industries will transport and accommodate one less marketing executive. Telecommunications companies will bill one less heavy user of long distance.

In detailing the obvious and painful consequences of the restructuring of marketing, I am not advocating protectionism or nationalism.

My point is that competitiveness is not simply a manufacturing issue, but one which also imposes itself on services such as marketing.

In fact, decision-making jobs such as marketing are far more essential to the new economy. The further away we get from this decision-making dilutes the competitiveness of a wide cross-section of smart, value-added industries.

In the past, Canada exported talent to head up such marketing-intensive companies as Warner-Lambert and Colgate-Palmolive and Nabisco.

There was an acknowledgment that the constraints imposed by Canada’s smaller, more diverse, more spread-out population, created marketers who were more efficient and more innovative.

We also exported ideas such as those of Marshall McLuhan, which allowed the whole world to see communications in a new way.

Such insight, and such confidence, seem to be lacking at a time when the very value of the Canadian marketing industry is being challenged.

It may be time for Canadian marketers to start marketing themselves.

John Dalla Costa is an author and consultant to senior business executives.