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A Little Advice

Reprinted from News-To-Use, Vol.5, No.2.
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The advertising industry is in a state of tremendous flux. In just a few years, whole new technologies have made dramatic changes in the way ads are created and directed to their respective audiences.

When I got my first agency job some (God help me) 25 years ago, we pasted-up ads with an X-acto knife and a straight edge, wrote copy on a typewriter, and made copies with carbon paper. Art directors produced comps (the term, you may recall, is short for "comprehensive art") with markers and rubber cement. When we recorded radio commercials, the engineer physically cut and spliced the tape. Same with TV. We mailed stuff or hand-delivered it, because FedEx and fax machines hadn't been invented, and we did our research at the library instead of online. FM radio was still a hot new medium; cable television was hardly more than a bright idea; and computers were practically the sole province of large insurance companies and the Department of Defense.

Today, television is on the brink of 500 channels with fiber-optics that allow for zip code sorting of programming and commercials, and the Internet has sprung up as an entirely new communications medium. Computers are ubiquitous, performing jobs in seconds that used to take skilled technicians - art directors, audio engineers, film editors, photo retouchers, printers, typesetters - hours to perform. Ads that once needed two or three weeks to complete can now be done in 24 hours...and often less.

Another aspect of the advertising business that's undergone enormous change is the relationship between the agency and the advertiser. Agencies and their clients used to be a lot closer than they are today; the relationship was less adversarial and more collegial. What was once a true business partnership with real benefits on both sides - has evolved into something that is often nothing more than a fairly casual buyer/ supplier association.

This is especially unfortunate, because the great creative work, the "big ideas," the savvy marketing advice is much more likely to come from an agency that feels it is part of the business of its client rather than a distant, outside vendor.

When I first started in the advertising industry, ad agencies competed with other ad agencies for business. Today, we compete with our own clients. More and more of the work that was traditionally handed to professional communicators - data sheets, brochures, newsletters - is now being handled "in-house," and often by people with no more training under their belts than a one-day seminar called "Introduction to PageMaker." Those companies that do go outside for marketing support services, are often working with two or three different marketing communications firms, so no single one of them knows too much or has anything like control of the campaign.

This is crazy. An ad agency's role in the marketing process is, or should be, to develop persuasive communications tools that help move the sales process forward. And it's like any other task - the more you know, the better the job you can do.

Let this be a plea for a return to the good old days, when advertisers took agencies into their confidence and made them full partners in the marketing process. Let's go back to a time when there was an honest commitment between agencies and clients. Agencies would promise to know and stay up to date on the market, and provide creative, strategic communications solutions under the umbrella of a comprehensive campaign. Clients would agree to work as real partners, willingly provide information, and quit threatening agencies with the loss of their business.

Technology makes change inevitable. But a return to the relationships of yesteryear is making more sense than ever.

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