During inevitable dry spells, why do agency folks become so damn clueless?
February 25, 2011
In the absence of new briefs most ad agencies flounder. Having not planned for drought (we never do), the lack of organic growth or new business is almost always painful. Unfortunately, we are seemingly incapable of healing our own wounds. And bullish to a fault, we never see them coming. It’s not a good formula. But we’re smart, right? We can sell sand in the desert. So why is it we only know what we’re doing when we have something to do?
I’ll start by looking in the mirror.
For all our advertising awards, and the big salaries that go with them, most hotshot creatives have no clue how to help the agency out. Suddenly, the idea people are bereft of ideas. We bitch and point fingers. Our humor grows dark. Instead of working (on what?) we surf the net forwarding racy videos to one another. When that grows old, we update our portfolios.
And account people sans accounts are just as clueless. Fred has been milking the same cow so long he doesn’t know how to do anything else. He’s frustrated at Betsey when her milk runs dry. Dumb fucking animal! But just below the surface he blames his agency. They didn’t give him what he needed to take care of the cow. And it’s not like he didn’t ask them and warn them. Deeper down Fred blames himself. It’s his account for Christ’s sake. He could have done more or done differently. And now it’s too late. Instead of thinking what he might do for the agency to make up for the shortfall, Fred runs to his office and updates his Linkedin account. After all, he thinks, “they don’t pay me to make rain.” Wonder why?
Who’s “they” and “them” anyway? It’s your agency. Here’s an idea: Why not get together and try to figure out ways to help out the firm? In over 20 years working in numerous creative departments, I’ve never seen that happen. Not once. Which makes me just as culpable. What excuses did I make? That they didn’t pay me enough? That they wouldn’t listen to me anyway?
And so it goes during dry spells. From top to bottom, agencies fall apart. There are many reasons for this. One big one might be that ad agencies are not built for anything but growth. Holding companies demand profits that might otherwise be allocated to prudent reserves. Somewhat irresponsible for agencies during good times, it can be downright fatal during bad. When the hallway chatter turns to ‘cuts’ everyone becomes a headless chicken, both in courage and intelligence. Yet, even if privately owned companies endure hard times longer and/or plan for them better, I can’t help feeling there’s more we all could do to mitigate the problem.
I’m in my own little dry spell right now, but if/when I get my next job I’m vowing to initiate planning for tough times. Maybe it’s a think tank wherein the agency’s best and brightest brainstorm ideas. Maybe it’s a redo on the website. Unfortunately, fear cripples planning right when one needs it the most. Management tends to hunker down, invariably settling on cuts. And why weren’t contingency plans created during flush periods anyway? It’s a cyclical industry; tough times befall all agencies. There has to be a better way for us to handle them.