Editorial: Change may be difficult but it is vital for industry

To say that advertising has reached a defining moment in its evolution is a masterpiece of understatement - agencies that once regarded themselves as the undisputed brand guardians now find their duties diluted as new technology has empowered consumers to shape brands' fortunes in an unprecedented way.

Moreover, as media relentlessly fragments, agencies have yet to learn how they can reconfigure for the challenge and, most importantly, how they can be fairly rewarded for their efforts.

As the feature on page 22 points out, the internet's growth has unleashed all sorts of conflicting emotions within the industry. There is excitement about the opportunities the medium could create. But this is tempered by fear of the potential damage it could do, as well as concern about how an agency can possibly make serious money out of it.

There is no question the industry has been slow to plan for the changing environment. Not long ago, a senior figure pointed out that an agency manager from the 70s returning to his desk today would need only to learn how to switch on his Mac. Little else has changed. The problem for most groups is they are trapped within traditional models that should be torn down but, in practice, cannot be. As JWT is finding (page 16), making a break with your past can be a protracted, often unpleasant process.

The uncertainties are reflected in the dilemmas facing the networks as they grapple with digital. Is the answer to keep new-media divisions separate or to integrate them fully? If you do integrate, do you run the risk of providing integrated offerings that are bland and smack of compromise?

And what of creatives? Should they be told to retain their specialisms, or encouraged to become all-rounders? If so, do you demotivate them? If you don't, will they always push for a creative solution that reflects their discipline?

Finally, what of the digital independents? They have been the catalysts of the revolution, but will they continue to be innovative as they get swallowed up by the supergroups?

So many questions, so few answers. The only certainty is that the reinvention of advertising will not be quick and will involve much trial and error before a workable system evolves. It will not always be pleasant - but it will be vital.

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