MEDIA: PERSPECTIVE; Failure to embody new-media talent will damage shops

Recently, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed watching the contrition of senior executives of Barings Bank as, one after another, they have been hammered for their parts in the Nick Leeson saga. As a morality tale for our times, it is rather apt. As a summary of how class still cuts across our economic and financial activity, it is both fascinating and not a little terrifying.

Recently, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed watching the contrition of senior

executives of Barings Bank as, one after another, they have been

hammered for their parts in the Nick Leeson saga. As a morality tale for

our times, it is rather apt. As a summary of how class still cuts across

our economic and financial activity, it is both fascinating and not a

little terrifying.



You can sum it up like this: in thrall to the money-making potential of

derivatives trading, the Barings officer class happily surrendered all

power to the lower class troops, as represented by Leeson and his barrow

boys. So long as the money kept rolling in, they didn’t want to know how

those new-fangled and complicated things worked. From the outside, it

looked as though they were all one happy bunch. But from the inside,

that patently was not the case and when things went wrong, the old class

divisions reasserted themselves.



Without wishing to exaggerate it, you can’t help feeling that the

potential (if limited) parallels between this and the role of new media

in advertising agencies are too close for comfort. On the top deck of

the agencies sit the officer class, not really giving the support or

caring what the new-media oiks get up to down in the basement so long as

they make some money and give the agency the right image. In fact, not

only do they not care but, because it’s all too complicated, they’d

rather not know how it works.



Now, I’m not talking about Barings-type fraud or anything like that

here, but the inherent probability of a culture clash between agencies

and new-media specialists that makes it hard for the two to co-exist

within the same organisational structure. You can put this in terms of a

class-based fissure, as I have, or in terms of anorak geeks and officer

suits.



Turn the clock back 20 years and we have the media peasants in the

basement - the ones who really made the money - flexing their muscles to

get greater recognition of their status and, when the officers fail to

give it to them, they go their own way and set up as media independents.



Will the same happen to agency new-media specialists? Will they break

out and do their own thing? I don’t doubt that it is entirely fanciful

to explain the case of the Lowe Howard-Spink team which quit (Campaign,

last week) in Barings terms, but it is nevertheless a salutary reminder

to agencies that, when it comes to accommodating new-media talent,

agencies are a long way off the pace. You could argue - and some no

doubt will - that it doesn’t matter where the talent sits so long as

the agencies can use it, but failure to embrace this new breed of

individual will undermine agencies’ attempts to portray themselves as

purveyors of total communications services to their clients.



They say that history repeats itself, the first time as farce, the

second as tragedy. Let’s hope that some learn the lesson.



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