Stronger unity will restore our industry's pride
A view from Rick Hirst

Stronger unity will restore our industry's pride

Media agencies need to come together and work with their counterparts in creative agencies to drive change at a time of unprecedented turbulence, the Carat chief executive argues.

I had a strange feeling a couple of Fridays ago. It felt odd and a little uncomfortable at first. It wasn’t home time, it was too early in the day. It was warm, a little fuzzy; like a big hug.

And then I realised what it was. It was a sensation of pride. The cause? I was scanning the social media feeds of many of the agencies that had backed the inaugural IPA #AdvertisingUnlocked open day.

It was a smorgasbord displaying how agencies had supported an idea not just for themselves but to be part of something bigger. Something that would make an important difference.

Unity. That was the force behind that feeling of pride. Coming together. Joining up. Pooling our vast and collective talents to address an important issue facing our industry. 

This led to thoughts about how this contrasts to daily agency life, in which we’re all striving to achieve on behalf of our clients, our people, and our holding groups.

It’s been just over a year since I joined the media business from a creative agency. The question I’ve been asked most often since is: "What’s it like?"

My stock answer is that it’s pretty similar: clients, money, problems and ideas.

But what I could never have expected was that I’d be joining at a time of unprecedented turbulence, questioning the value, and values, of our profession. 

We’re in danger of forgetting that the basis of our business model is relationships.

We might badge ourselves differently with a new buzzword but we are only as strong as the relationships we build. These are built on trust, values, shared goals and a sense of partnership and, it’s fair to say, many of those foundations have been shaken.

What does this have to do with unity? Well I think it’s a value we’re missing.

Being more open

Unity means a more collective, open, and shared discussion about the challenges we face.

The conversation among my peer group across agencies is that no-one is having it easy. However, what we share is a conviction and passion for what we do and how we are a valuable catalyst to the fortunes of brands.

Green shoots are emerging with the industry bodies coming together with clients and agencies to discuss joined-up plans, but surely we can move faster?

Bridging media and creative

Unity also has to be about bridging the gap between the media and creative businesses too.

In the digital economy there can be no argument that aligning content and context is key to our collective success.

We now have the ability to target amazingly specific audiences but this is useless if the creative pay-off doesn’t "fit" and drive the required action.

In the same way, fragmentation of media only increases the need for powerful brand ideas that create consistency of experience and lasting relationships between brands and their customers.

There are no excuses. We need to get closer.

Simpler and better for clients

Unity also brings a greater focus on working together to make things simpler and better for our clients.

For instance, the reticence to support a consistent industry view of metrics is only exacerbating the sense that what we do isn’t valuable, and therefore can’t be 100 per cent trusted.

To change this we need the media owners and publishers to also come to the table and not stand behind a new benchmark or bespoke definition that just works for them.

Until we do, we won’t be able to genuinely say we’re putting our clients’ best interests first.

Aligning commercial relationships

Unity can be applied to our commercial relationships too. If we’re to rebuild trust we need to be comfortable having a more open dialogue as to how we want to make money and why that’s important for our clients.

We should be pushing much harder to align our successes to results, and for that we need clients to jump in too.

We have the data and capability to understand the impact of our work. If it’s working we should be rewarded appropriately, not hamstrung to Full-Time Equivalent-based agreements that old school procurement departments see as a commodity to be traded.

Unity gives us a collective opportunity to renew the pride we all have in our industry.

We shouldn’t ever underestimate its importance in creating a sustainable future for our business.  #AdvertisingUnlocked was a brief but important reminder of the many reasons we can inspire the best of the best to want to join, stay and do great things in advertising.

Let’s be clear, unity doesn’t mean we’ll be less competitive or stop wanting to win.

It will, however, free us from the drain of worrying about our own business challenges and allow us to focus our efforts on those of our clients.

We must seize this moment as an opportunity to change, and to encourage our clients to join us as partners in achieving this. A new chapter sounds inviting and exciting.

I fundamentally believe we’ll get there quicker and better if we open it together.

Rick Hirst is UK chief executive of Carat