OPINION: Why financial discipline could reduce creativity

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?

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

deals.



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

hand.



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