Remember Theodore Levitt’s maxim: "People don’t want quarter-inch drills. They want quarter-inch holes."
Clients don’t want full-service agencies. They want full service. And, as long as they get it, they don’t much mind how.
Thirty years ago, they got it from advertising agencies. Agencies didn’t call themselves full-service agencies because that’s what advertising agencies were. Despite the fact that they’d all sprung from media beginnings, agencies built their reputations on the work. Creative people were the garlanded heroes, creative departments the pampered favourites.
Meanwhile, media people – without whom there would have been no agency and no income – sat at the back of the room and were expected to be grateful when they were granted nearly ten minutes right at the end to make their half-hour presentation.
One single, if gradual, realisation changed all this: the startlingly different implications of size for the creative and media elements of the business.
Competitive conflict had long limited the growth of the full-service agency. Even the biggest of agencies never enjoyed more than 5 per cent of its respective market. New-business directors could legitimately whimper that, of the 20 accounts currently up for review, they were permitted to compete for only three.
For the creative side of agencies, increasing size had the automatic effect of decreasing opportunity.
But for media buyers, size was good. Buyers need muscle. And, as media owners consolidated, media buyers needed more muscle. Clients agreed: they were mostly happy that their media money should be combined with other clients’ media money to make it easier to look the media moguls in the eye.
For the media side of agencies, increasing size had the automatic effect of increasing opportunity.
And so the great decoupling took place. Since then, media companies have gained confidence and influence. Some of the best new thinking about our trade is now coming from them. And clients have lost nothing – except, of course, that illusive thing called integration, which automatically disintegrated with the disintegration of the full-service agency.
Today, a client may work with a dozen different disciplines, each with its own letterhead and its own bloody-mindedness. There’s a permanent (and mostly healthy) tension between specialists that makes seamless integration a 24/7 maintenance job.
Across-company client teams have made progress. Full-service agencies may stage a come-back. Some clients will take on the role of orchestrator. And any advertiser that simply wants it to be easy will be rewarded with perfectly integrated blancmange.
My 15-year-old niece thinks she’d like to "get into advertising" and has come to me for advice. Things have changed so much since I started out and the competition is so strong that I’m not sure if I should gently dissuade her from the idea. She hasn’t declared that advertising is her passion, just that she’d like to try it. She’s not an A* star student but a charming and imaginative girl, and I’d hate to see her spirit crushed.
Many successful people in our trade have got where they are through charm or imagination alone. Since your niece has both, my first instinct was to say that you shouldn’t try to
dissuade her. But, on reflection, I think you should.
Because another valuable characteristic of top persons in advertising is a kind of disarming stubbornness; a way of getting your own way without seeming to; a refusal to take no for an answer while leaving others convinced that they’ve won you over.
So all you have to do is try to dissuade her. And should she respond "Thank you so much, Auntie, for that perceptive advice. I can now see that I’m deeply unsuited for a career in advertising", you’ll know that she is.
But if she looks thoughtful and then tells you three weeks later that she’s contrived to get two weeks’ work experience at GumDropz & Smartass, you can wave her on with confidence.
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