PERSPECTIVE: Shops must find a new way to tackle the next recession

It was the Bartle Bogle Hegarty deal that did it for me. The initial speculation seriously underestimated the price Leo Burnett paid (closer to pounds 30 million for a 49 per cent stake!). This confirms my impression that there’s something dangerously fin de siecle about the business at the moment. No pun intended, it being the start of 1998, but the kind of money being sloshed about last year on anything from houses in central London and dinners at Le Gavroche to Simons Palmer and Manning Gottlieb Media can only call to mind the pre-crash mid-80s.

It was the Bartle Bogle Hegarty deal that did it for me. The

initial speculation seriously underestimated the price Leo Burnett paid

(closer to pounds 30 million for a 49 per cent stake!). This confirms my

impression that there’s something dangerously fin de siecle about the

business at the moment. No pun intended, it being the start of 1998, but

the kind of money being sloshed about last year on anything from houses

in central London and dinners at Le Gavroche to Simons Palmer and

Manning Gottlieb Media can only call to mind the pre-crash mid-80s.



The question is not if, but when will the next crash come and is the

advertising industry better prepared to deal with it than the last time?

If one assesses the evidence of the IPA’s population censuses over the

past 25 years then one might assume a safe ’no’.



The graph perfectly mirrors the UK economy’s highs and lows. Adland

religiously staffs up for booms and lays off in recession. So what?

Other industries do too. But this last recession led to a savage cutback

that has done lasting damage to the standing and self-confidence of the

business. It adds to the sense of a lack of professionalism, and the

sheer weight of those cuts allowed for a feeling that the industry had

been carrying excess baggage.



Next time round the redundancies cannot be as savage. Not all the jobs

returned, partly because a layer of middle management has been deemed

unsustainable, partly because ever tighter margins mean many agencies

exist on an extremely pared-down basis as it is.



At least that’s the line from many agency bosses. And I’m sure that’s

how it may appear to staff within agencies themselves. But it’s not how

it looks to the outside world at all. Outside adland the process of

creating advertising is perceived to be unnecessarily lengthy and, by

implication, profligate.



Some of the blame for this can be laid on clients, largely because of

the disempowerment of so many of them. Waiting for the proposed idea to

work its way up the client structure and for approval to work its way

back down again contributes to man hours wasted in a way that only the

current research process matches.



But agencies cannot lay the whole blame at the client’s door. The

briefing procedure, laborious creative development (particularly when

clients are denied access to creatives) and most of the production and

interminable post-production process may provide comfort blankets, but

they are killing the spontaneity of the work and the respect of the

greater business community for what adland does. Clients will tolerate

it less and less, likewise the salaries in, and size of, the creative

departments. Only if these core problems are addressed will a bloodbath

be averted in the next recession. Um, happy new year.



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