What will become of us?

John St.'s Nellie Kim and Chris Hirsch muse about their place in the new (and crowded) creative landscape.

shutterstock_94265785By Chris Hirsch and Nellie Kim

In an industry that preaches long-term brand ideas and vision, we find it somewhat ironic that we often don’t stop and think about our own future in the advertising business. More often than not, the lightning-fast pace at which we’re all forced to work keeps our focus on the next immediate step or deadline, as opposed to looking forward at what lies further ahead.  So we decided to lift our eyes up a few inches above our laptop screens for a minute, and what we saw created even more questions than answers.

As budgets and timelines continue to shrink, we’re noticing the competitive creative landscape is starting to get more and more fragmented as suppliers scramble to get as much of the marketing pie as possible. And while the line has been blurring between above-the-line and below-the-line work in our industry for a while now, from our vantage point, there is no line anymore. What we see are media agencies doing their own creative work, PR shops hiring creative directors (recent examples here, here and here) and “digital” agencies taking on traditional advertising campaigns. And some clients have simply chosen to bring their creative work in-house, keeping the entire pie to themselves.

Unfortunately this means creative work will continue to be diffused in all sorts of directions, ultimately creating a fragmentation and dispersion of the craft of great advertising. It makes you wonder, if creative becomes an easily-resourced offering from multiple suppliers, and creative work takes a back seat to efficiency, then where does that leave agency creatives like us?

Even though this glimpse into the future of our creative offering initially looks quite bleak, we’re confident that in 10 years time, agency creatives won’t meet the same fate as say, a Blockbuster employee. And that’s because we believe there are certain skills and traits we can bring to a brand table that can’t be taught or learned on the fly.

Brands will always require holistic, 360-degree thinking, but by the way things seem to be headed, it’s becoming more apparent that storytelling and craft will continue to separate the good brands from the great ones. And that’s precisely what the world’s best creatives provide. While we do think there’s reasonable evidence to suggest “creative” will be redefined as well as where you will find these creatives working on it – the desire for great ideas and the skills required to come up with them never will. Look no further than Vice Media’s recent purchase of Carrot Creative or Google continuing to hire and staff creative directors from some of the most respected ad agencies in the world. Two very forward-thinking companies know how important the quality of the creative is to brands and their consumers.

The only thing we can do now is wait out this initial stage of agencies and suppliers attempting to redefine their offering. As this process shakes out we may see a spectrum where some places remain broad and offer a one-stop shop for brands, or perhaps the opposite, where agencies once again have to decide if they will provide a niche creative offering by going back to being specialists in their field. All of this of course is further compounded by the fact that companies like Facebook and Google are continuing to make a play for their share of the marketing pie at the already crowded table as well.

As we go back to lowering our eyes to our laptop screens, we realize a few things. Firstly, it’s been way longer than a minute. Secondly, and more importantly, we shouldn’t be too fearful of what the future holds for advertising creative folk like ourselves. What we are currently witnessing is indeed a lot of movement of creative resourcing and offering, but it only appears to be a displacement and not a disappearance of it. Fortunately, there will always be a desire for big ideas today and 10 years from now, and while we can’t predict the future, we do think it’s safe to say it might even be as strong as our desire for a good piece of pie at the moment.

CHRIS_NELLIENellie Kim and Chris Hirsch are CDs at John St. Johnst.com

Interested in more? Read Kim and Hirsch’s thoughts on talking to Gen Z. 

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