Thursday, January 1, 2009

The joy of job loss


"To an industry whose primary reason for being is crafting and disseminating messages, the idea that social media are better executed by clients themselves is a fundamental problem."
Adrian Ho, Dec 22 2008, Adweek


I lost my job as a copywriter in a reasonably high-profile above-the-line ad agency in July '08. There wasn't much point in feeling victimised. The entire agency went down, the plug being pulled by high-ranking WPP decision makers in London and New York. We were solvent, we'd recently had some business wins and with the right attitude things could've turned.

But when the recriminations were over, it was easy to see the hand of Darwin at work. We'd geared up for the digital age with woeful inadequacy. 'Geared up' suggests way too much dynamism on the company's part, in truth. We weren't even grasping the minimum as regards 'old' digital media opportunities, let alone the completely unexplored frontier of social media. Our clients were international and blue chip, we were parochial and chip van.

That won't ever happen to me again. I learned hugely valuable lessons in 2008, and I have every intention of applying them in 2009. Mistakes will be made, I have no doubt, but if they're made honestly and learnings can be taken, then they're not really mistakes in my book.

Through the perfect medium of social networking, I discovered this today from Adrian Ho. It's a rather telling statistic in itself as regards the benefits of social networking for clients, although it's slightly more chilling from an agency perspective. In essence, five of the top ten brands (as voted for by marketers) DO NOT USE ADVERTISING.

Thanks to Paul Dervan for posting the full slide show which can also be found here on Slideshare. Incidentally, if you want to put yourself through college for free, spend more time on Slideshare. It carries some of the most informative tutorials you will ever come across, given generously for free by people who know their stuff.

Speaking of Adrian Ho, here's another quote that appeared from him in an article just before Christmas in Adweek:
In a recent Sapient study of more than 200 CMOs, "90 percent said that it is becoming increasingly important that their agency uses 'pull interactions' such as social media and online communities rather than traditional 'push' campaigns. Sixty-three percent said that an agency's Web 2.0 and social media capabilities are 'important/very important' when it comes to agency selection."

Yet while a large number of agencies and clients are looking to social media as the future of the communications business, a growing number of highly respected marketers don't actually see a role for their agencies in social media.

Barry Judge, CMO of Best Buy, said: "I do feel very strongly that people who work for companies have to participate as themselves in social media. Social means people interacting with people. You can't outsource that. I am really clear on how we should be participating. I am not sure how agencies participate for clients." Words like this ought to set off massive alarm bells in the heads of everyone working in the agency business today.
Well. The bells rang for me six months back. Then we had a Grey fire sale, the bells were repossesssed and we were on our arses on the footpath.

By now of course everyone is talking about belts being tightened. Planned office moves are quietly being mothballed. Departing staff aren't being replaced. Clients are shelving spend that was earmarked last year for what's now suddenly extraneous stuff. There was a noticeable absence of agencies taking their staff off to Barcelona/Prague/Stockholm for the Christmas jolly. No, it was low-key affairs in the office or round the corner in the not-ostentatious chain restaurant.

Dublin is at the end of the chain in many respects. It's well documented how our economic woes are more aligned to America's than the rest of Europe. It should be equally obvious then, especially to the communications industry, that the relative merits of getting deeply involved in social networks on behalf of clients far outweigh any perceived (and ultra-idiotic) harm that agencies could be doing to their own dwindling constituency of fat-budget tv ads and all the rest. Very soon the choice will be removed for those who still have it. If this is what's happening in the big US cities, MDs and CEOs in Irish agencies would do well to resolve to junk complacency in 09.

Omnicom is preparing for massive layoffs, talking about 3,500+ of its 70,000 workers getting pink slips. BBDO Detroit already laid off 145 people in November. Their client Chrylser is even cutting the CMO’s job. Deborah Wahl Meyer, CMO and VP, will leave the company, effective immediately, and her position is permanently eliminated.

For JWT, their once vibrant Chicago office is now a shadow of its past. A few years ago: 800 people and well over $100 million in billings.

For WPP, consider 10% of all WPP’s revenues are from Ford. The 10% probably translates into a 5% cut.

RSCG is dealing with client defections at the agency's key London office. Euro RSCG accounts for 62% of the €1.5 billion ($2.16 billion) annual revenue of Havas. They will probably be merging many of their smaller offices.
Thanks to the savvy Idriss Mootee at Idea Couture for those particularly Dickensian tidings. But he's right. There's no point in suffering from ostrich arse. The axe is swinging time on tradvertising. Certain companies in Dublin are clued in to this. Most are not. A confluence of economic woes and new media opportunities makes this a most interesting time.

Me? I've had my bellyful of the pessimism of analogue adland. 2009 is the year when I teach this elephant some new dance steps. Now where's me ballet pumps?

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