The Advertising Industry Is In A Race To The Future

Tonight is the annual AICP show. An evening of celebration of companies who sell creativity for a living.

Selling subjectivity is no easy matter. Particularly when most of the creative service world sells its output based on the time it takes to make it, not the value of the change it creates. A nonsense which these musings have contemplated before. And will, no doubt, again.

Tonight will see advertising agencies and their suppliers mingling at MOMA to honor the craft and technique of advertising in the motion image. Two weeks from now, and many of the same people (myself included) will rendezvous in Cannes to continue the conversation about the state of the industry, and where it’s headed.

In both cases, the shows themselves are reflections of an industry in transition. From what was to what will be. Whatever the future holds, I know no one who believes that very much of that future is yet set in stone. The race is on. And to the winner the spoils.

Winning that race requires not simply the talent to express original thought in compelling ways, but the capacity to translate those thoughts through technologically driven distribution channels.

Which at first glance sounds a lot like the marketing and advertising industries of the last fifty years - ideas expressed through television, radio and print all requiring use of the technology of their day to bring their power to inform, entertain and provoke to the public’s attention.

Sitting inside those industries, the knowledge that things have changed is unquestioned.

What to do about it is the source of much debate. A great deal of dissension. And no little denial. 

In our view, most creatively driven organizations were built for an age that no longer exists. The Industrial Age. Where process, specialization and standardization were foundations for success. 

Apply the analogy to the creation of advertising and the comparison is exact. Information flowed in a straight line, from client to account person to creative to producer, with the final piece being stamped out in a production-line environment in well ordered process. You filmed, reviewed, edited, added audio, finished and shipped. The only variable being the degree of complexity required within each discipline.

As a consequence of which, organizational structures matched the process exactly. Linear, predictable (the more the better) and measurable. The individuality came from the artist employed at each stage. But never from the process.

Today, organizations need to reflect the complex, multi-faceted world and media community in which we live and communicate. A world in which connections, and collaboration create un-predictable outcomes.  A world in which a sneaker company (no, not Nike) has become an investor in and a producer of original music. A multi-million dollar investment that until recently would have been spent on traditional media production and distribution. The age of earned audiences indeed.

Building organizations capable of encouraging and then applying this kind of original thought - and doing so with the reliability required of any business - involves a broader and more sensitive view than traditional thinking supports.

Which starts with solving a central problem. How do you build a business that simultaneously celebrates the individual while producing instinctive and organization-wide collaboration?

For we humans are not predictable. Nor do we take direction very well, or for very long. And organizations built on the presumption of either have less resilience in the face of change.

The answer, I believe, is to build organizations that are better reflections of the organisms they contain. Human beings. 

Here, are six truths towards that end that we have experienced and observed in companies that are winning the race for the future: 

  1. It is easier to attract us, gravitationally towards a vision of the future we believe in, than to push us towards an unknown destination.
  2. It is easier to command loyalty by listening to us, empowering us and purposing us, than bribing us - a transactional relationship at best.
  3. It is easier to get the best out of us in an environment which values trial and exploration, than one which is rigid.
  4. It is easier to hold us accountable to clearly articulated parameters, than to conduct post-mortems.
  5. It is easier to get us to share when we feel secure and confident, than when we feel uncertain and threatened.
  6. It is easier to encourage us towards evolution than revolution.

Having talent is a requirement of any creative company. 

But the winners of this race will not be those organizations who have the best talent. 

But those who use talent best.