campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 08 December 2006 12:00AM
If 2006 taught anybody anything in the marketing communications business, it is that breakthrough creative ideas have never been more highly valued.
Whether in mainstream agencies, media companies or digital specialists, the challenge remains to find new ways of engaging with consumers, whose power to build brands they like - and damage those they do not - has never been greater.
What proved less certain during the year was the extent of the internet's role in reaching these newly empowered potential customers.
Online spend rose 40 per cent in 2006, according to GroupM. Yet, according to the ZenithOptimedia chairman, Derek Morris, the internet is just part of a digital future that will have profound implications for the way the industry is configured.
Convergence - the seamless delivery of TV, music and the internet - returned as the industry buzzword of 2006. "I still don't understand exactly what convergence means," Morris confesses. "But I know that everything is becoming more joined up, and that this might well force a change in the way we work."
For many mainstream agencies, the experience of 2006 has taught them that, when it comes to understanding digital and harnessing its power, they still have a way to go.
"Most agencies seem to think digital should sit with communication planning," Ed Morris, Lowe London's executive creative director, explains. "Its natural home ought to be in the creative department, where the most flexible and all-embracing people in the agency are."
John O'Keeffe, his counterpart at Bartle Bogle Hegarty, says digital is a medium like any other: "It's what you put in to it that counts. There's no substitute for a good idea."
Within the digital specialists themselves, the big lesson learned during the year is the importance of scooping the best of what is a paucity of available talent to cope with the pace of change. Mark Collier, Dare's managing partner, says: "In this new world of empowered consumers wanting more information than ever before, it's vital we find people capable of delivering it."
Some believe the resurgence of convergence will force a change in the industry's historic structures. Stuart Archibald, a partner at Archibald Ingall Stretton, suggests 2006 marked the beginning of the end of clients having lead agencies.
Morris believes the days when creative agencies, then media specialists, considered themselves the true agents of change have gone. "None of us can do it on our own," he says. "How will we adapt to change? I've really no idea. Lots of people will try lots of different things and some will prevail."
WHAT LESSONS HAVE YOU LEARNED IN 2006?
"The lesson of 2006 - and indeed the lesson of the past five years - is that a fragmenting media simply means more opportunities. The code I've learned to live by is that digital is just a discipline of creative. It's what you put in to the medium that counts. Above-the-line agencies have legacies of big creative ideas. Ten years ago, they deployed those ideas in print, on TV or on radio. Now you can deploy them in any number of different ways. But the need for great ideas isn't changing, and I believe 2007 will see a shakedown between agencies who seize the new opportunities and those who don't." - John O'Keeffe executive creative director, Bartle Bogle Hegarty
"With more media channels than ever before, 2006 has confirmed that big, simple and emotive creative ideas have never been more important. Also, 2007 should be the year in which agencies finally come to terms with digital - we could start by finding another name for it - but it's equally clear that the predicted death of TV has been greatly exaggerated. If that was the case, eBay wouldn't be advertising on it." - Ed Morris executive creative director, Lowe London
"This year saw digital become more important to our business than ever before, and next year will see that momentum continuing. The same can also be said for convergence, while mobile marketing will be huge. I also believe that the days of clients having lead agencies are numbered. We began seeing it at the end of this year, and the trend will increase in 2007. Clients want creative ideas wherever they can find them." - Stuart Archibald partner, Archibald Ingall Stretton
"The major lesson is that the City has become really interested in brands and the intangible assets agencies create. In 2005, we found only half of the financial analysts were showing any interest. Now, the number is much higher. It's a message we'll continue taking to the City in 2007. We also hope that, under a Gordon Brown government, if you can have sex at 16, you ought to be able to watch a Marmite ad." - Hamish Pringle director-general, IPA
"What I've learned in 2006 is to stop worrying about whether or not ad agencies will 'get' digital and just get on with it; and that the sweetest pitch wins are when you play hard to get. One of my most memorable moments of the year was chairing an IPA course and hearing one of the graduates describing themselves as 'a kid in a dinosaur suit' - an interesting way of looking at your career path. Finally, I've learned that if agencies don't take climate change and sustainability seriously, how can we expect clients to make much greater sacrifices?" - Mark Cridge managing director, glue London
"This year has been what might be euphemistically called challenging for the world of media. Next year won't be any less so, but it will be one in which there'll be lots of interesting developments. The analogue switch-off has begun, and 2007 will be the year in which convergence really starts to happen. Media used to be one-dimensional, but not any longer. And being involved in it still beats working for a living." - Jim Marshall chairman, Starcom
"The most obvious thing to manifest itself during the year has been increasing consumer control. We've all clocked the fact that we have to engage with them in different ways. We've also learned to expect the unexpected. A year ago hardly anybody had heard of YouTube. Now we talk about it almost too much. But perhaps the biggest lesson for us is the importance of attracting the talent that can deliver for us. There's a serious shortage of it." - Mark Collier managing partner, Dare
"The internet was 2006's flush. A lot of people made money out of it, but it's clear that, although the medium will be an important part of the digital future, it is just a part. Especially when you can have a box in your kitchen which will allow you to do your e-mailing and file-sharing, as well as watch TV and listen to the radio. This means the industry must break down the silos in which it has been historically arranged. Maybe this convergence will force the necessary change." - Derek Morris chairman, ZenithOptimedia
"This was the year in which we learned it really was possible to launch a newspaper and take its readership from zero to 400,000 in just a few weeks. Even Metro took four years to do that. We now know that you can produce something that's seen as good value by upmarket young people going home from work or heading for a night out. It was the first major launch of its kind for many years - and we proved it could work." - Ian Clark general manager, thelondonpaper
"What have I learned during 2006? That it's not a good idea to take three months' unpaid leave in summer. When you set off, you think it'll give you time to figure out newer and better ways of breaking down the inertia of the British buying public. But on your return, you might find that the inertia has spread, and all your sabbatical has actually taught you is that you quite like being off work." - Steve Harrison chairman and creative director, Harrison Troughton Wunderman.
This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk