I had only just finished putting digit to keyboard (There's been An Eruption) when another explosion happened in AdLand. Many of the citizens ran for cover the first time, hands on ears, hoping that nothing too dramatic was going to change their lives. Just a brief dusting down, maybe.
They have just cause for complacency. Nothing much has rocked the foundations of an industry whose roots go back deep in to the 1950's.
Bang! Accenture goes and buys a design firm and suddenly there's Big Magma in the air. AdLand's cosy world has been seriously shaken this time.
Boom! The venerable observer Ad Age warns AdLand: "Look Out: Accenture's Invading Your Turf in a Bigger Way Than Ever."
Do something for me if you will, dear reader. Go to the magnetically attractive Google NGram Viewer and punch in: "consultancy, advertising agency, ROI". See what happens to those words as their general usages vie with each other for supremacy.
Consultants soar as demands for greater ROI soar. And little old Advertising limps behind because STILL it can't say exactly and unequivocally what it delivers to the bottom line (except "cost" and some "consumer awareness"). This goes for online and offline advertising by the way. Let's be honest, if Advertising was a surgical tool wielded with utter precision of outcome, the industry would be alchemists of the business world. Alas it is not quite so.
The graffiti has been on the walls for the poor admen since the late 1970's. Consultancy firms have held more sway with Boards than Ad Agencies, because Return On Investment has grown to become a significant KPI for CEOs, Boards, Pension Fund Holders, Shareholders, Stakeholders and you-call-them-what-you-like holders.
How many articles, speeches, books, pamphlets, conferences have bemoaned the decreasing power of Advertising agencies at Boardroom level?
Many years ago, as Chairman and CEO of the hipper than hip ad agency St. Luke's, I volunteered Martin Sorrell as "My Favourite AdMan" to the Independent newspaper for its end of year review. I was roundly, um, rounded upon, as various "creatives" expressed dismay that I voted for AdLand's self-confessed "businessman".
My point was that Martin Sorrell had grown an industry and put it on the global map in a meaningful, grown up way.
He was plain "Martin" then, but now, "Sir Martin", surely has no problem being heard at Board level and, indeed, across the globe. I have attended sessions at the World Economic Forum where he holds considerable sway. But at such sessions, I have also worked first hand with global business leaders desperately wanting the magic of creativity to define distinction, drive revenue and build customer satisfaction.
If creative thinkers want to be heard at Board Level they must understand that creativity needs to be re-defined as a serious business tool. Otherwise it will become a production tool, wielded bluntly by media buyers and poorly trained clients. Creativity is not the production of something. It's the THINKING-UP of something. It's light, weightless. Yet can move people to completely re-think their lives - if done properly.
A small group understands this.
"Innovation Social" is an ad hoc, non partisan, pan-industry, cross-chamber group which meets in coffee houses and bars in the time honoured way that groups like the RSA met almost a 140 years ago. It debates, argues and tries to carve out a new role for the industry.
Its mission is to harness the considerable brain-power of AdLand to consider a different service ethic. That is, to help businesses grow and develop with innovative thinking built-in to products and services, not just bolted-on as witty ads or pithy end-lines.
This is the best defence, in my mind, against the encroachment of Management Consultants who have shown themselves, for almost 40 years, to be unable to solve problems with pure imagination and raw brain-power. The statistically sound "black-box" is all too alluring a mechanism for them. I speak from experience. I was asked to consult for McKinsey on this very subject a few years back.
AdLand has recruited high quality "Oxbridge" talent for many, many years. While it plies it's intellectual skills into Marketing add-ons it does itself no service and wastes it's brain power.
By recognising the seismic changes currently happening, it can confidently advise businesses on how to gain competitive advantage and add value, whilst holding its head up high and asserting that it is not an industry that only adds cost.