Viewpoint: Agencies must leave siege mentality behind

'I know half my advertising budget is wasted. The trouble is, I don't know which half.'- usually credited to John Wanamaker, a u.s. department store merchantThat line used to be a big joke.Ha, ha, ha, advertising sure is a mystery, isn't...

‘I know half my advertising budget is wasted. The trouble is, I don’t know which half.’

- usually credited to John Wanamaker, a u.s. department store merchant

That line used to be a big joke.

Ha, ha, ha, advertising sure is a mystery, isn’t it?

We don’t know how it works, or why it works, or if it works – but, hey, that’s the fun of it, right?

Half the budget wasted, what the hell, we’ll just throw more money on the pile until something happens.

What a great business, eh?

Uh-oh. It’s 1994. Nobody’s laughing anymore.

There isn’t any money to waste, anywhere. (Ask Ontario Premier Bob Rae.) And agency people are hearing clients say disturbing things.

Things like:

‘Listen, agency. I’m sitting here cutting production, and cutting inventory, and cutting people. And you do not have a God-given right to ask me to take millions of dollars, and put them into clever words and pictures, unless you can prove to me that they will work.’

‘Listen, agency. I will continue to advertise, but don’t give me any crap about needing to polish my image. Help me sell stuff, fast, or I won’t have an image to polish.’

‘Listen, agency. Change! (‘But, sir, what do you want us to change into?’). How the hell do I know? You’re the experts, you tell me. All I know is, the way you are, the way you’ve always been, you’re not meeting my needs.’

And, so, remarkable things begin to happen.

Clients move into more measurable fields of activity, like promotion and direct marketing.

Sears moves from an agency that does great creative to an agency that does great psychographics.

Labatt puts its whole future into an agency boasting a Canadian office of six.

Coca-Cola literally goes Hollywood, moving its creative assignment from a giant ad agency to a giant talent agency. (That one’s worth a whole column in itself.)

Meanwhile, what do agency people do?

They do a very human thing. They hunker down, right where they’ve always sat.

If they’re in creative, they say the future lies in modern, breakthrough creative.

If they’re in media, they say the future lies in efficient, pencil-sharpened planning and buying.

If they’re in account management, they say the future lies in brilliantly-honed strategies.

Today’s managers need people who can help them see beyond the horizon.

They need people who can use their experience to look forward, not backward.

So, agency people, instead of hunkering down and protecting your turf, get up and stretch yourselves. Bounce your mind around.

Don’t take Charlie in the next office to lunch, take a hardware salesperson.

Find out what a Johnson box is, and why it works.

Creative guys, learn about people meters. Media folks, investigate SciTex. Everybody, watch the Nashville Network for a while.

It really is a new world out there. And the answers it demands will not come from the same old places.