Close-up: Adland weighs up the impact of the recession

One year into the recession, Campaign asked some leading lights what lessons the industry can start taking from the fall-out.

MAURICE LEVY, Chairman, Publicis Groupe

The next few months will reveal how badly the industry has been damaged by the recession. And I think we'll find it's been more than we ever could have believed.

One of the reasons for this is some of the brutal job-shedding that's taken place.

Another is the suffering within media in general, and analogue media in particular. The impact of recession will hurt them because they won't have the opportunity to invest in their futures.

Meanwhile, procurement people have become much more active, meaning that negotiations are becoming so much more difficult. We're also seeing a loss of volume that, for some agencies, will have long-term impact.

Those agencies heavily weighted towards the traditional way of doing things and those that don't have a solid financial structure are going to be the ones with problems. If they don't have good balance sheets and are too dependent on traditional media they've no way of re-energising their business at a time when the market is changing so much.

As for the future, I'm very cautious about saying that things will never be the same again. They said that after the Enron scandal, yet we still got the Madoff fraud.

What will happen is that people will expect much more data before they make a decision.

What's more, there's bound to be an impact on the number of entrepreneurs doing agency start-ups. In the 70s everybody was doing it, in the 80s not so many and in the 90s even less. Since 2000 there have been almost none - and there's no likelihood of that situation changing.

COLIN GOTTLIEB - Chief executive, EMEA, Omnicom Media Group

Typically, the lessons are obvious. The fascinating part is why most people continue to ignore them.

The first lesson is why we're at this place, and that's because the vast majority of people refuse to learn from previous mistakes. The second lesson is that human behaviour is irresistibly irrational (and always has been).Third, successful people are considered in good times and decisive in bad times.

Fourth, bullshit and procrastination are highly toxic and during a recession are swiftly punished by clients. Fifth, strong delivery, great ideas, clarity of message, genuine empathy and complete honesty are highly valued by clients and rapidly rewarded (plus long-remembered, too).

Sixth, painful as it is, this recession is highly disruptive and a powerful force for change. It demands the development of new ideas and facilitates long-needed action. This assumes the vast majority of people are prepared to learn from previous mistakes - which they're not. That's why the "lucky" few will emerge stronger and better from the recession. And why, unfortunately, it's bound to happen all over again.

NICK BAMPTON - Managing director, Viacom Brand Solutions

For many in advertising this is their first recession. I started working just before the last one and didn't know what all the fuss was about. My flat cost 30 per cent less than a few years earlier, I could afford my low mortgage and the general exodus left the door open for people like me. Recessions seemed OK.

Fifteen years on, I'm not so sure. In addition to the recession there's structural change brought about by technological advances that has accelerated the shift of marketing spend from brand to relationship marketing.

Thirty years ago, 78 per cent of advertising expenditure was display and now it's 66 per cent. On top of this, advertising is also at its lowest level in relation to GDP since 1983. Companies have cut advertising heavily to achieve, not only their cost objectives, but also to fund customer-relationship management.

But let's not panic. We will undoubtedly see consolidation (although in TV it may be harder than some think) and some high-profile jobs will go, but opportunity will come to those that adapt. The economy will recover, brands will need to be built again and that's where advertising comes in. TV must learn to exploit the move to relationship management as TV companies need to see viewers as customers while retaining and leveraging more of that relationship for themselves.

BEN FENNELL - Chief executive, Bartle Bogle Hegarty

The quality of your product matters more than ever. You have to focus your talent on the thing that matters most - the work.

This environment is making everyone more commercial. Client marketing departments are getting closer to the commercial centre of their businesses and that is being reflected in the briefs we are getting.

The pressure cooker environment within many client organisations can easily transfer into your business, and suck the confidence out of your people.

Lots of clients are willing to try much more innovative ways of working, structuring and remunerating. An opportunity for us all.

The best of your talent shifts into another gear. I have seen some performances in the last year that have been genuinely inspiring. Strong relationships, with organisations and individuals, matter more than ever. Confidence is the oxygen of an agency, and is the key to all our best partnerships. I've learnt that a redundancy process, no matter how strategically appropriate, is grim.

I've learnt that there's a strangely liberating strategic environment created by intense financial pressure.

You mustn't waste a big recession. Things won't be the same again. The best businesses will be using this recession to reinvent their offering and prepare for the new world.

LORNA TILBIAN - Head of media equity research, Numis Professional

In October 2007, we published Lessons From The Last Downturn in which we favoured the professional/educational publishers and large agencies, and warned of the challenging outlook for free-to-air broadcasters and leveraged business-to-consumer groups.

In January 2009, we published Lessons From The Last Upturn. We were not calling the turn, and retained our view that 2009 would be a hostile environment for the media sector, with share prices not bottoming out until forecasts had stopped falling.

However, we believed that as we progressed through 2009, the market's gaze would turn from depression to recession to recovery and identified two phases of recovery this time around.

The first is re-rating, which runs for a year from when the market turns. The second phase is driven by earnings-per-share growth.

The agencies and B2B groups we viewed as structurally sound enjoyed growth through the cycle, while the structurally challenged B2C publishers and free-to-air broadcasters were unable to convert a benign economic backdrop into higher earnings per share, and therefore share prices.

In the six months following the March 2009 stock market trough, we have seen a re-run of this scenario, but with a subtle difference. The corporate response to the hiatus of last autumn was swift and severe, with a lack of credit leading to job cuts and de-stocking. Meanwhile, the consumer has found himself in a better place, with lower mortgages payments and utilities bills. But, as we all know, a consumer is also an employee...

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