Wednesday, December 4, 2013

There's something happening here.

There's something happening here.

This is going to be a long post.

I expect flak.


Maybe rebuke.

Maybe someone in my agency will even say something.

But here goes.

Something is rotten in the state of advertising.

The advertising press--if there is one--is so busy chasing the banal and quotidian, so fervid to capture the frenzy of yet another new media ephemera, that they are missing and not reporting on the real macro-economics that have eviscerated our industry and so many others.

Yesterday, I received a note from a noted internet friend, in response to my metaphorical post about 3-D printing. This friend had risen to the board level of a vast multi-national agency. And then, he spoke out and got himself axed.

It cost him money. But he kept his soul.

The names have been changed to protect the innocent. Here's his mildly edited note:

"Your post took me back to my days when I had the misfortune to sit on _________'s Worldwide Board.

"The only time my peers would look up from their Blackberries was when the global Financial Director went through the numbers upon which their bonuses depended.

"Never once did they evince any interest in or express any sense of responsibility for the thousands of people who worked hard to make those numbers and secure those bonuses.

"Alas their attitude was typical of the way boardrooms have been behaving across the world and across industries for the past 20 years.

"And it isn't just the folks earning $7.25 who are being treat like shit.

"It used to be said that the assets of any company went down in the lift each evening.  But over recent years things have changed and now staff are regarded simply as a cost.  And the constant aim is to keep costs down, or cut them when the profits that translate into C-Level bonuses cannot be maintained.

"Hence the ever widening gap between the panjandrums you refer to in your blog and the "squeezed middle".

"Problem is, it isn't just a monetary squeezing that the middle are experiencing.   It's also the loss of pride and status that comes with the realisation that the bosses will hire and fire regardless of skill or commitment - just to sustain their salaries and bonus payments.

"I once sent an email to the CEO of Un-named Company - and the rest of the board telling him that "a 19th century plutocrat would have been embarrassed by the autocratic way he ran the business."

"That was the start of a very enjoyable long goodbye which culminated in me telling him "he'd had too many people blowing smoke up his arse for too long and that if he objected to me swearing at him then he needed to get out more".

"It was well worth the loss of the astronomical salary I'd have earned if I'd kept quiet and joined the great hog wallow round the boardroom table.

"Five years on and a quick look at the Un-named Company's website tells me that their snouts are still in the trough.  And the squeezed middle gets ever more strung out and alienated."
"Here are a couple more thoughts about the C level carve-up of the corporate spoils.

"While the stretched middle are regarded as a cost and see ever decreasing value placed upon their contribution, those at C level have propagated the myth that their individual contribution can make or break a business.

"This rationale allows them to demand six (seven) figure salaries for switching to sectors in which they very often have absolutely no experience, bonuses for simply turning up for work, golden handshakes when they come in, and golden parachutes when the leave.

"No one at Board Level questions this, because they all have a vested interest in the racket they are running.

"The problem also proceeds from the spread of what I see as the American style of "managing upwards."

"I always thought that managers looked downwards and their first responsibility was to the people who reported to them i.e. they knew a) who was working for them, b) what they were doing, c) whether they had time and resources to do it and d) when to step in and help them complete the task.

"Management upwards is, however, a very different approach.  This demands that the manager's first priority is to manage the experience and expectations of the person above them.  This means that they spend most of their time ensuring that their boss remains untouched and untroubled by the day-to-day functioning of the business.

"They, themselves, rise and fall not by their ability to ensure that it functions productively (As you and I know, productivity is best achieved by a happy and engaged workforce.)

"On the contrary, their destiny is shaped by their ability to manipulate information and practice politics in order to (that dreaded phrase,) "raise their profile."

"Which means that aspirant middle managers (who want to escape the squeezed middle) are complicit and, indeed, try to become junior partners in the C - level carve up."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Advertising is in flux. Its monetization model has been shaken and in the advent of a new word of fee structures and paid and unpaid media and technology, nothing is as it was. To work for a public holding company agency is to be in the eye of the storm, quarterly forecasts to analysts and profits to shareholders.

What constitutes the "product" that an agency sells has changed as well as how its sold and how the agency is compensated.

Thus we find, see the blogs yesterday, a digital agency that is now serving as the midwife for ten tech start ups, PR firms going after paid media,
complex marketing automation platforms, nearshoring and off shoring hubs...The list goes on.

With few exceptions, the way agencies operate, how they're staffed, managed and what they're held accountable for is virtually unrecognizable from a decade before.

We can decry it, refute it, attack it, resent it, but we can't ignore it.

The old days aren't coming back..ever.

The industry is changing and we either change with it or we get cast aside.

Mothers, don't let your babies grow up to be cowboys.

Or something like that.