There’s no-one quite so evangelical about abstinence as a reformed
drunkard, and agencies, having forsaken their dissolute lives, seem to
be overhauling themselves with almost puritan zeal. How else can we
interpret the ICC Information survey (Campaign, last week) that suggests
the ad industry is working harder, paying itself less and utilising its
staff more profitably?
The ICC evidence is that lessons are being learned, not least the need
to embrace the business disciplines that few in the industry cared about
when it was awash with money. Today, the old delay in chasing payments
has gone, although the survey shows there is a lot of sloppiness in the
system that still needs to be eradicated.
Undoubtedly, more responsible commercial practices have been forced upon
agencies by opportunistic clients who have exploited the industry’s
collective weakness in order to negotiate some ludicrously advantageous
The most welcome aspect of the ICC findings is the indication that
advertising is starting to regain its self-respect and is no longer
prepared to sell itself short.
While all this is welcome, a warning is necessary. The danger is that
the fight for profitability may become an end in itself and shops will
become the exploiters rather than the exploited. Of course, the industry
must make money. How else is it to invest in the people who will
safeguard its future? But it also needs to ensure that excessive caution
doesn’t win out in the race to boost margins.
Nobody wants to see a return to the profligacy of the bad old days.
However, agencies born at that time had one important thing in common -
they were ready to take risks. How many of the brilliant but
unpredictable creative talents that were hired a few years ago would get
over the threshold today?
The challenge for agencies is to not lose sight of the fact that
successful business practices and creative excellence need to go hand in