Direct Approach: No longer the poor relation

An economic crisis, the rise of digital and other factors have converged to move DM back up the adland pecking order.

It's a great metaphor. The end of advertising apartheid.

Christoph Becker's dramatic evocation of segregation between the glamorous end of marketing (where ad agencies swan about) and the grubbier environs (traditionally populated by direct marketing outfits) delivers a powerful insight into the mindset of an industry that has long felt second class.

But no longer. The GyroHSR chief creative officer told fellow essay authors at the roundtable lunch, reported on the next page, that clients don't have the luxury to operate such "discipline racism" anymore. DM agencies have earned a fresh respect and a sense of greater equality in the advertising hierarchy. "If you feel like that (a victim of discipline racism)," he says, "it is because you put yourself in that position."

Several things have tipped the balance of power. Smaller, recession-shaped budgets; the taut imperative of effectiveness; a recognition of the importance of data; the general thrust towards integration; DM agencies' efforts to promote themselves as serious business partners; and, of course, digital.

Digital - to stretch the metaphor somewhat - is the Nelson Mandela of this piece. Direct marketers would claim it as their progeny; now everyone feels they know it just as well. And all clients want it on their guest list.

Digital is probably the one thing that has done more to elevate DM than anything else. As one luncher put it, it has even made data sexy. Now there's a thing.

But let's follow the trajectory of Becker's race argument into the future. Perhaps direct agencies - or however they could, would or should be described - could take a lesson from across the Atlantic.

While the election of Barack Obama as the first black president has been hailed as the axis-shifting, momentous event that it clearly was, it has quite evidently not brought an end to racism in the US.

Nor could it have been expected to.

So, while direct marketers should rightly celebrate a levelling out in the advertising nation, they'd be well advised not to anticipate a whole lot of change in the short term.

Instead, their focus must remain on doing great work for great returns - and feel comfortable in their own skin.

- Suzanne Bidlake, associate editor (reports), Campaign