Ad agencies, it seems, are under perpetual threat in the digital era. Clients squeezing their margins; automated ad buying systems are challenging business models further. The fight is on for talent, which is fleeing for well-heeled tech companies, and continued consolidation has left the industry pretty much an oligopoly.
These trends, and more, were on display in Digiday this year. Here are five of our favorite pieces of the year about the state of the ad agency business.
“Hotwired’s decision to run banners set off a race to see what company would be first. Across the country, in sleepy Westport, Conn., early interactive agency Modem Media was determined to be first. Joe McCambley, a creative director at the shop, was enamored of the potential of the Web. What’s more, he had the perfect client, AT&T, which was in the midst of a campaign positioning itself as the facilitator of breakthrough tech under the tagline “You Will.” Teaming with a techie named Craig Kanarick, who would go on to found seminal Internet agency Razorfish, McCambley set out to build the first banner. They holed up for four days to craft the execution.”
“The much-maligned email and calendar software, formerly and more disdainfully known as Lotus Notes, has been cited by a range of departing executives recently as one of the things they disliked most about working for the holding company. It crashes all the time, it’s not intuitive, and it’s generally “old and clunky,” they say. Don’t even mention the near-useless webmail access. For a holding company that loves to brag about how digital it is, it sure does give employees archaic technology for the most basic of modern communication.”
“There’s little evidence that longer hours actually result in superior work. Study after study shows that rest is absolutely paramount to kindling creativity. The inconvenient truth is, this grueling work schedule is a choice, and a bad one at that. In short, ad industry execs work long hours because that’s what industry execs do, not necessarily because it’s the best way to operate. It’s a culture that some suggest is ultimately detrimental to both agencies and their clients in the long run, as staffers get burned out and the quality of their work begins to suffer.”
“There’s a major difference between those of us in our 40s and them. I came up with bosses who were all Baby Boomers. They expected you to go and fetch them coffee and be grateful for the opportunity. You did it without complaining. It’s now a shift in mentality. They’re a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately generation. A paycheck doesn’t seem to count as part of that what you have done. You have to give up so much more time to reviewing and patting them on the back. I can’t imagine ever asking for a performance review unless it was a way to up my salary, but I’m constantly asked for them. You do realize it’s only been four months since your last one, right?”
“Lawson Clarke was awakened at 7 a.m. the morning after his 2006 office holiday party by a call from his parents. “Have you seen the Boston Herald yet?” they wanted to know. There, splashed across its pages, was a photograph of Clarke, at the time a copywriter at Arnold Worldwide, naked but for a Santa Claus bikini, clinging to a stripper pole at his office party. ‘It was my personal highlight/lowlight if we’re talking about office parties,’ Clarke told Digiday this week. He had been egged on, he said, by his creative director. But he takes total responsibility for going a little overboard that year. ‘It seemed like a great idea at the time.’”