Opinion: Perspective - Is adland prepared to prove it values its people?

By Claire Beale, claire.beale@haymarket.com, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 04 December 2009 12:00AM

Campaign has been spending the past month or two locked into debates about the runners and riders for our agencies of the year and agencies of the decade awards.

You'll find the results in a special bumper issue of Campaign out next Thursday (then we're back with a proper news issue again on 8 January). But in the meantime, may I offer you an antidote to all that is messy and depressing and draining about the tail-end of 2009.

Take a look at our website, Campaignlive.co.uk, and you'll find highlights from the best work created by our Advertising Agency of the Decade shortlist: Bartle Bogle Hegarty, Fallon and Mother.

The breadth and quality of the work is simply fantastic. There are plenty of gems that I'd forgotten about, and some old favourites that I never tire of watching. Luxuriating in them all, back to back, I was reminded why I enjoy my job so much and what makes the advertising industry so special.

Watching these reels, optimists will take comfort from the fact that, at its best, what the ad industry does is simply magical. This is work that makes you feel good - not because it's all happy and funny, it isn't. But because it unearths brilliant insights delivered with fantastic craft skills and really touches you in some way.

And you certainly don't have to restrict your view to agencies such as BBH, Fallon or Mother to find examples of wonderfully engaging, agency-defining and brand-transforming work. Is there an established agency that doesn't have at least a few of those across the past ten years? The best agencies have armfuls (and those that didn't haven't stayed the course).

Pessimists watching these reels will wonder, though, whether advertising has put its best years behind it.

I suspect that such adland pessimists have been thinking as much every decade since the industry's inception.

It's true, I think, that if you take a broad sweep of 2009 in isolation, you might suppose that the rot is setting in. Let's not pretend that this has been anything other than a truly brutal year, when doing your best has been harder than ever and when survival (at the personal as much as at the corporate level) has seemed such a fragile state.

Yes, there's the small matter of the recession to mitigate against a long-term (or even medium-term) gloomy view; it won't always be this bad. But we're really only at the beginning of dramatic change and one of the biggest challenges agencies face going forward (the health of their bottom line aside) is persuading the good people that this really is an industry that deserves their best efforts and will repay them.

Forcing everyone to wallow, for a moment, in all that has been good about the noughties (I hate that word, by the way) could be a temporary salve, but there's no doubt that plenty of the very best people in the advertising industry will be going home for Christmas questioning their future in the business.

In the past few weeks, I have had conversations with more chief executives and senior managers who are plotting their exits from their corporate jobs than I can ever remember having had before. They're (mostly) not disillusioned by advertising as much as disillusioned by big agency life and the network/holding company structures.

Which brings me to our A List, which is published with this week's issue.

Our black book doesn't include all of the most important people in the industry, but a very, very good portion of them. And it doesn't include all of the people that have been responsible for some of the best work this year, particularly those who aren't senior enough to hustle for their share of the spotlight.

But as a symbol of the importance of people in this industry, our A List is a potent marker. If we lose sight of that, then advertising's best days very well might prove to be behind us all.

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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