A Rebuttal from the Brighter Side of Advertising.

October 16, 2014
October 16, 2014 Marty Donohue

Recently a friend shared an article he came across entitled “Why Agency People Are So Unhappy.”

The gist of it is rather alarming, suggesting that the world of advertising has become a vast wasteland of bitter, angry people lamenting the post-recession end of the glory days. Some of these people are quitting the business in dramatic fashion, while others sadly trudge their way through a career that suddenly just isn’t fun anymore.

My response to these people: Get over yourselves already.

Has the business of advertising changed? Of course it has. All you need to do is look at the One Show book from 10 years ago to see that. The book is filled with glorious four-color magazine spreads, brilliantly written and art directed newspaper and outdoor ads, storyboard after storyboard of magnificent TV commercials, and not much else. Back then, we didn’t have to care so much about calls to action and results because that’s not how success was measured. It was all about awareness; it was only about awareness; and it was awesome.

So yes, things have changed. Now our business has become way more about results. Results are being demanded of our clients on a daily basis, and therefore results are being demanded of agencies on a daily basis.

But here’s the thing – that doesn’t mean the work can’t still be really good and perhaps even great. It just means it has to be really good and perhaps even great work that gets results.

I believe there are people in advertising that are using ROI as a great excuse to throw in the towel. They’re not really keying in on the business problem their work needs to solve. They would rather lament that things aren’t the way they used to be and therefore get down on the entire advertising world. However, the best people in our business have made the adjustment and are creating excellent work that creates a huge impact with consumers and terrific results for our clients.

Does that make what we do any harder today? That depends entirely on your attitude. As far as I’m concerned, advertising has always been an extremely challenging business. It’s crazy hard to get hired, wildly competitive once you’re in, and it is forever changing in shape and scope and medium. That’s also part of what makes it so exciting, and why so many people love that they do it for a living. Including me.

When I started in this business some twenty-five years ago as a junior copywriter, my creative output was limited to a handful of possibilities: what’s the headline, what’s the body copy, what’s the radio script, and what’s the TV idea? Today that creative palette has exploded in scope and size to include mobile, social, digital, video, content, promotional, design and packaging, experiential, product development, tech innovation, etc. It is a vastly growing and ever-changing treasure trove of creative and branding opportunities that agencies should be adapting to and capitalizing on. All you need to do to recognize all these new creative opportunities is look at last year’s three different One Show books (One Show, One Show Design, and One Show Interactive).

The agencies that are thriving, both big and small, are the agencies that recognize that we are living in a Full Contact world (see what I did there) where we are just as accountable for delivering great creative work in all these formats as we are for delivering great results.

The agencies (and people within them) that are not thriving may be the ones that are still fighting the need to change. It may be hardest of all for the bigger agencies to adjust the way they’ve done things. They have enormous payrolls to sustain, and the idea of being nimble and thinking big on smaller budgets in shorter timeframes is a bit tougher to pull off.

It’s easy for me to say, but it would seem that the happiest people I’ve seen in the business of late are the ones who work at smaller agencies.

At Full Contact for instance, we seem to have all banded together to create a remarkably happy and productive environment over the past eight years.

One key to that is that we’ve surrounded ourselves with people who share our passion for this business. Again, this may be easier to do in a smaller agency. There’s a lot of energy flying around a company like Full Contact on any given day – people working closely together on multiple projects for multiple clients. The form that energy takes, positive or negative, greatly depends on the people you hire. We have been incredibly fortunate to bring in people who seem to love this business just as much as we do.

Another key to agency happiness is recognizing early and often that the best way to actually produce the great work we come up with is to have our clients’ best interests at heart ahead of time. You’re not going to sell clients anything unless they trust you, and they’re only going to trust you if they believe the work you’re presenting will create a great opportunity for them (and not just you) to succeed. That means your work needs to be smart and compelling and 100% on strategy, and it needs to be something that they can then turn around and enthusiastically sell to their bosses. Does that mean it can’t be a great creative idea? Hell no, of course it can be. As long as it’s a great creative idea that will work like crazy. Understanding this has not only helped us foster terrific client relationships, it has also helped us produce a lot of really good work along the way. And that makes us pretty damn happy.

The final key to agency happiness around here is perhaps the simplest of all: We try not to take things personally, and we never, ever take ourselves too seriously. That doesn’t mean we don’t work hard. We work incredibly hard. We just happen to enjoy the hell out of that hard work, because we believe what we do makes a difference.

Which brings me back to the article that inspired this post to begin with. Truth is, there has always been a certain low level of negativity permeating this business. Maybe that negativity is being amplified today because there are more outlets to share the cynical remarks and anonymous posts than there were even a couple of years ago.

Of course this business is hard. Of course it takes a thick skin. Of course we all have experienced our fair share of disappointments, difficulties and sometimes even disasters. But we have also experienced enough triumph and excitement and accomplishment to keep coming back for more and more. I’m so happy to have discovered a career that allows me to do all that I have done and work with all the unbelievable people I’ve done it with.

And as for those who choose to whisper and badmouth and complain about the current state of advertising, I say this to you: Maybe it’s not this ever changing, always challenging, hypercompetitive business that is the problem.

Maybe it’s just you.

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