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Lately I have been observing the advertising industry and discussing it with my business coach. He laments that the industry has disempowered itself by letting Clients dictate timelines. ‘Where has all the professionalism expounded by David Ogilvy gone?’ he vents. What has happened to times when Agencies had the power to say ‘I respect your decision but this is not something I can do and good luck with your campaign’? Has the industry lost all its integrity?

Is the world that David Ogilvy once knew gone forever?
I have been in and out of the advertising industry for the last 20 years and I see both sides of the coin. There really is no clear or easy solution as to regaining their foothold as trusted brand custodians rather than just providers of brand support. Agency leaders have to constantly juggle professional integrity with the ability to keep cash flow up. Then there is the Asian context – clients range from being highly sophisticated to naïve. There are also those who don’t know what they don’t know. 

All this is coupled with a reactive culture that favours month-to-month (and sometimes day-to-day) planning. So agencies have to adopt various strategies to handle different sets and levels of clients. Sometimes these three levels exist within the same organisation, which often leads to frustration and disempowerment of not just the organisation’s employees, but also of the partner organisations that work with them. When this happens, those involved don’t take risks, calculated or otherwise, and settle for the middle road, which stymies brand growth in terms of relevance and connection.

This, in an era where consumers and customers demand – even expect – differentiated engagement.
Agencies that continually fight for better quality work and timelines are often labeled as arrogant and argumentative with a low turnaround time. They are subsequently replaced. And if that isn’t enough, creativity, a domain once owned by traditional agencies, is also taking a beating, knocked out by digital campaigns that are strategic, clever and engaging.
So many agencies settle for the middle ground, losing battles in the hope of one day winning the war. But the rules of the battlefield are rapidly changing and the war is a protracted one, favouring those with the stamina and skill to survive many lost battles. So really this is not the best time to reclaim higher ground, when the whole industry is unsure of its footing.
There is some cold comfort in the knowledge that we are not alone. The advertising industry worldwide is facing a revolution that is turning everything on its head. Clients are also starting to break away from using just one agency to engaging a slew of partners to deal with the digital revolution that has literally taken over the industry.
So is there a silver lining to be found?
“There’s never been a better time to be in advertising,” says Aaron Reitkopf, North American CEO of digital agency Profero, referring to the unbound possibilities of digital, “and there’s never been a worse time.”
Agencies who are continually battling high turnover and faced with churning out more work for less money are starting to question the sense of it all. Then there are those who have rolled up their sleeves for the long haul jumping into the digital foray to offer clients a more 360-degree solution. Who will emerge winners?
At this juncture, it is really anyone’s guess. My bet is the victors in this revolution will be those who learn from great brands, are quick to adapt to change and offer the best solution.