Writing in Campaign last year, Andrew Cracknell described the NABS
Monitor as ’advertising’s wine bar, its suggestion box’. And so it is.
It’s also a big focus group - with agency people, for once, taking part in
the discussion rather than just watching through a one-way mirror.
In case you’ve missed it up to now, the Monitor is run by NABS in
association with Campaign. It’s a survey, and what it wants to find out is
just what’s going on in your mind. What gives you a buzz, what bugs you?
What do you hope for, what do you dread? What help do you need - and what
wrongs would you like to see righted? What do you know about NABS - and
what would you like from it?
Last year was the first year it was run. This year, twice as many people
responded. Though open to the entire ’marketing communications industry’
(there should be a lavish prize on offer for anyone who can think of an
alternative to this cumbersome term), 59 per cent of respondents worked in
advertising agencies - almost certainly reflecting the fact that the
insert in Campaign generated the majority of the replies.
As always, interpretation must be cautious. But it’s the only survey of
its kind and some of the findings are fascinating.
Almost everyone thinks that older people in the business are discriminated
against. Not surprising, perhaps, that the over-35s feel this, but it’s
just as much an issue with the under-35s. (See tables, right.) And they
all believe that age discrimination kicks in at 45 or sooner.
Ninety per cent of people may be wrong but it’s very unlikely. So what are
agency managements up to here? Most clients want the benefit of experience
- gained the hard way at other clients’ expense. Who wants an apprentice
neurosurgeon or a teenage defence counsel?
Perhaps it’s just competitive posturing. All the new young agencies are
staffed by new young talent so, hitching up their skirts, the established
agencies chuck away their biggest single competitive advantage and start
boasting that the average age of their management group is 17.
Or does discrimination exist because it deserves to exist? Are people in
our business really past their best at 45, clogging up the corporate
arteries and blocking the career paths of the lean and hungry?
It would certainly be odd for me to think so, but if they are, this is a
hugely important issue - for the business itself, for the IPA and other
trade bodies, and for NABS. (Maybe it’s just creative people who stop
being creative on their 35th birthday. In which case would John Webster
kindly explain himself.)
Though it doesn’t jump out of the survey, one big question for the next
few years is going to be: who do clients look to for brand strategy?
Ten years ago the answer was obvious: the traditional, full-service
advertising agency. Today, there are many contenders. Most agency people
are fairly dismissive about the management consultants - but they’re
serious players with deep pockets and enviable margins. The appointment by
McKinsey of William Eccleshare earlier this year should have made the most
confident agency stop and think. And, even without the management
consultants, there are design and identity consultants, brand strategy
specialists and media investment companies - all with strategic resources
So if one of the new battlegrounds is going to be the profitable provision
of total brand strategy, common sense would suggest that those with
experience and accumulated wisdom are going to be in some demand.
Indiscriminate youth worship could lead to the traditional agency becoming
little more than a finishing house. If so, the NABS Monitor respondents
are right to voice such universal concern: age discrimination might prove
to be not only human injustice but rank bad business.
Over half of those respondents - men and women both - also wanted to see a
better balance between the sexes, particularly in positions of
I can’t remember a time when this obvious imbalance wasn’t a worry - yet
there seems to be no discernible improvement.
Again, we ought to ask why. Part of the answer, perhaps, comes from the
response to another, unrelated question in the Monitor. More than half of
you claim to be working longer hours than you did two or three years ago.
The heat is hotter, the competition is more intense. And so, inevitably it
seems to me, is the competition between work and home.
However good New Man may be at bringing up wind and nappy-changing, he is
never going to experience the conflicts felt by working mothers. I do not
have the slightest doubt: it is infinitely harder for women to manage the
competitive demands of firm and family than it is for men.
Yet it is still thought unmanly of women to mention it - and men seem
curiously reluctant to acknowledge it.
But despite the pressures, you’re still having fun. Two out of three of
you feel happy and fulfilled in your work - and even more would actively
encourage your children to follow in your footsteps. (You may think it
pretty odd that there are some of your colleagues who would encourage
their children to enter a profession they themselves are unhappy in but,
as you know better than I, you have some pretty odd colleagues.)
But nobody loves you! Particularly clients! Despite the commitment and the
long hours and the sacrifices you make, people continue to undervalue the
contribution you make - and that’s the view of the great majority.
It may even be true. In fact, it probably is true. But I suspect it’s no
more true for our trade than for any other. The whole world feels
undervalued and under-rewarded and under-loved. One of the characteristics
of people who are very good at what they do is to believe that what they
do is more important than it is. It’s part of what gives them their drive
And you do still want to be good at what you do. When asked about
ambitions, you give standard, predictable answers. You want to run your
own business, you want to make a lot of money and you want to retire
early. At least, that’s what you say. Maybe you only want to retire early
because you think that if you don’t, somebody will do it for you. But
behind those work-a-day answers lie strong feelings I recognise.
High standards matter. To earn respect matters. To feel a sense of
achievement matters - even if not conventionally measurable. And that is
why, in your place of work, you’d like to see less politics and more
investment in technology, more time for deep and fruitful thought, more
openness and consultation.
For all its superficial cynicism, our trade seems to recognise that for
fun and diversity we can still beat the daylights out of bond-broking.
There are some odd divergences taking place. The concept of integrated
communications has taken time to take hold. Older readers may remember
Ogilvy Orchestration, The Whole Egg, One Voice: it’s 15 years or more
since several respected full-service agencies first started preaching the
integrated message - and very little happened. But now more and more
clients are taking it seriously. More and more want all their marketing
messages to meld melodiously above, below or through the line. And what is
the response of the marketing services industry? A flurry of de-coupling
and specialisation, that’s what.
Media and creative agree to divorce. Even the largest of agencies no
longer offers packaging, corporate identity, public relations, sales
promotion, direct marketing or sponsorship as an in-house option. A few of
the new-media specialists have sprung from the loins of the old-media
specialists - but a great many have not. And everybody jumps on the
So precisely at the time that clients are looking for over-arching,
all-encompassing, media-neutral brand communicators, they find themselves
faced with a 100 different splinter groups, each evangelically convinced
that theirs is the only discipline that matters.
This last development has prompted NABS to spread its wings a bit.
According to Monitor, the services NABS offers are now more widely known.
Two-thirds of you know about the Helpline and nearly half about Welfare
and the Career Consultancy. Many of the young know about the Flatshare
service and about a third have heard of the retirement home at Peterhouse.
But none of you mentioned FastForward.
Since FastForward is less than a year old, this came as no surprise.
It started with a prompt from Ken New, Terry Wheeler and the Media
They were getting concerned that young media specialists could come into
the business, spend a lifetime in advertising and never meet a
It turned out that creative agencies were feeling the same sort of loss
about media people, too, and that just about every trade was worried by
the increasing isolation that specialisation inevitably involved.
So NABS put together a series of four evenings, open to young people from
all disciplines, at pounds 100 a head all-in. Supported by the IPA and
Marketing, it was called FastForward, it was assembled and run by Mike
Tunnicliffe, it attracted greatly respected speakers from all branches of
the business (including clients) and on the final evening the competing
multi-talented syndicates presented their vision for the Ideal Marketing
Agency of the Future.
Feedback was so enthusiastic, from companies and delegates alike, that
there’s another FastForward, run this time by Simon Mathews, coming up
later this year. (Details from NABS.)
The emerging NABS is one that’s adapting rapidly to the changing world it
serves, crossing the boundaries of the different skills: helping the young
to progress as well as the old to enjoy company and security.
There’ll be another Monitor Survey along soon. Please join in: it helps us
keep on course.
Do you think that this industry generally tends to discriminate against
Respondents Yes (%) No (%)
Male 87 12
Female 95 5
Up to 35 years 90 10
35+ years 90 8
Would you like to see a better balance between the sexes in your place
Respondents Yes (%) No (%)
Male 54 28
Female 58 38
Up to 35 years 55 39
35+ years 56 38
Account handlers 54 34
Creatives 83 17