Friday, April 8, 2011

An answer to a question.

For nearly 30 years I've earned a living in advertising. Every once in a while, someone asks me, "how has the business changed." Someone did recently and I've been thinking long and hard about it.

Here's my conclusion in one sentence: "There is no longer any incentive to produce anything."

In fact, expanding that, for many people in the business--on both the agency and the client side, what's important isn't the conclusion--it isn't a campaign, a spot or a program. What's important is that you have work to do tomorrow.

Making meetings is important. Making work isn't. Because producing work actually cuts down on meetings. And making meetings is what's important.

It's not unusual for people to say to me, "I've been here x-months and haven't produced a thing." Today, that seems par for the course.

When agencies were paid commission on media spend, they had to produce or they wouldn't get paid. Agencies also marked up production 17.65%--more incentive to produce. Also, the more work runs, the more they make--an incentive to be constantly selling.

Today this system is gone. You get paid a fee. You put hours against that fee. If an agency comes up with an idea the client buys too quickly, they won't have burned enough hours. The agency will have to refund money to the client. It's like painting a house. If you get paid hourly, you stretch things out. You don't want to finish too fast.

Of course, Clients also have a disincentive to approve work. Approved work makes you accountable. No one in marketing in America gets fired for "looking at myriad creative options." For "research and testing." For "socializing things within the client organization."

In corporate America people get fired only if they actually do something. In agency America, agencies make more money if they produce more decks.

I'm sorry. But that's the way it is.


Sean Peake said...

Bang on.

dave trott said...


dave trott said...

This is the text of a letter sent by The Duke of Wellington to The War Office in 1812:


Whilst marching from Portugal to a position which commands the
approach to Madrid and the French forces, my officers have been
diligently complying with your requests which have been sent by H.M.
ship from London to Lisbon and thence by dispatch to our headquarters.
We have enumerated our saddles, bridles, tents and tent poles, and all
manner of sundry items for which His Majesty's Government holds me
accountable. I have dispatched reports on the character, wit, and
spleen of every officer. Each item and every farthing has been
accounted for, with two regrettable exceptions for which I beg your

Unfortunately the sum of one shilling and ninepence remains
unaccounted for in one infantry battalion's petty cash and there has
been a hideous confusion as the the number of jars of raspberry jam
issued to one cavalry regiment during a sandstorm in western Spain.
This reprehensible carelessness may be related to the pressure of
circumstance, since we are war with France, a fact which may come as a
bit of a surprise to you gentlemen in Whitehall.

This brings me to my present purpose, which is to request elucidation
of my instructions from His Majesty's Government so that I may better
understand why I am dragging an army over these barren plains. I
construe that perforce it must be one of two alternative duties, as
given below. I shall pursue either one with the best of my ability,
but I cannot do both:

1. To train an army of uniformed British clerks in Spain for the
benefit of the accountants and copy-boys in London or, perchance,

2. To see to it that the forces of Napoleon are driven out of Spain.

Your most obedient servant,


Anonymous said...

There is no disincentive to approve work. Really great work requires constant sell in an resell. It's not easy . Nothing great is. Let's not blame the client for everything. They have to be pushed. So do we all.

geo said...

Anonymous, I didn't blame the client for lack of great work, or produced work. What I said was that there has been an undeniable infrastructure change in our business. We have gone from commission--which emphasized selling to fee, which emphasizes accountability. I'm not blaming the client. However I do think our WPI* has increased dramatically.

*World Pusillanimity Index

themadcatholic said...

Absolutely right George.
They used to say at Saatchi & Saatchi
an ad a day keeps redundancy away.
I wonder how young guns would cope with that one?

David Brady said...

Sad, but true.

Robin said...

How right, how sad
Been a writer for more than 15 years
So, tactical ads shouldn’t take me – or anyone else – more than half a day to write
But that means I bill less time
So what I do is take as long as I can
By going through all the old ads and saying, “I’m trying to see if there’s a style I should stick to”
Of course, in between, I facebook, twitter and blog
So I can spot trends and apply them when I can