A Letter to Santa: Gifts for the Ad Industry in 2020 and Beyond

By The Cog Blog Archives
Cover image for  article: A Letter to Santa: Gifts for the Ad Industry in 2020 and Beyond

This is the last Cog Blog of the year; Christmas, family, cooking, presents, and holiday fun all mean that I won't have time to post again until the New Year. So, it seems appropriate and timely to use my mighty platform to write to Santa. Here's hoping.

I've been in this business quite an embarrassingly long time: 50 years. That's longer than I was expecting when I started out; in fact, it's longer than I was expecting when I started this blog six years ago.

Fortunately, I like advertising. I like the people, the discussions, the passion, the different opinions, the amazing creative work, the dynamism, and the speed of change — even if speed doesn't necessarily mean progress.

Most of all, I like the agencies (creative and media, just to be clear). I want them to succeed. I want them to be in a position to do their best work, as their best work is just terrific.

But things have been going wrong.

Media agencies got greedy and arrogant, thinking they could do absolutely everything, even though they often can't.

Creative agencies got stifled, partly by their holding company owners — whose interest has always been financial (see the greedy comment) over and above the excellence of their work — and partly by clients.

Some brands have shifted from a long-term focus on creative to a short-term focus on procurement. Consider Audi doing an account review after 37 years with BBH. Even setting aside the cost of the review to BBH, what was the internal cost to Audi of a review that went nowhere? The time spent, the meetings held. The cost of pitches to clients is rarely raised or discussed, though it should be.

And what were the network media agencies doing acting in their own best interests ahead of the interests of their clients?

Given that, here's what I would like from Santa (and industry leaders) this holiday season:

  • Media agencies to place planning front and center of everything they do. They need to charge properly for their services. And they should execute to the plan, not to some agency deal policy. Media auditors and consultancies need to get up-to-speed; the likes of ID Comms (who rightly hate the auditor tag) get it; others, including some of the largest, do not.
  • As part of this, media agencies need to rediscover thought leadership. Yes, I know all about the articles that appear from one or two "transformation leads," but they're too often random reflections on a broad topic. Agencies used to be great at leading the media industry's thinking on media issues; now, they seem too enthralled with the likes of Facebook and their ilk to say anything. And when they do (as Initiative's CEO did here), their holding company masters slap them down.
  • We need to rediscover fun. I don't know who writes the GrumpyAgencyGuy or MediaLad tweets, but they, along with the consistently wonderful Dave Trott and Bob Hoffman, all help keep us sane. If you don't follow them, you should.
  • Closer ties between media and creative remain essential. More collaboration, less fighting turf wars over who gets to keep what share of the revenue. It's all so tiresome, and tribal. Good luck to all those agencies forging close media and creative links.
  • Agencies of all shapes and sizes can surely play a role in curbing the lying, as well as the editorial excesses that exist among vendors. Place greater importance on integrity, on data accuracy, and on accuracy of reporting.
  • I'm a massive newspaper fan, so I wish every journalist trying to ply their trade and showcase their skills, despite the pathetic management obsession with clicks, all the best. And to my friends and client at the investigative newspaper and site Byline Times, long may you dig.
  • Media research has been a favorite Cog Blog topic of late. All the best to the advertiser trade bodies, such as WFA and ISBA, as they step in to knock a few heads together to get things done. Let them succeed.
  • The shining light in media agency land is the independent sector. The7stars, Bountiful Cow, December 19, and Goodstuff have all had excellent years, all have a point of view, are all brave and entrepreneurial, and all express themselves fearlessly. I'm hoping, even expecting, that they have a brilliant 2020.
  • To Facebook, I wish an outbreak of integrity and honesty in the content they accept, and in the data they produce. A big ask, even for Santa.
  • Finally, to every creative award organizer and jury: Led By Donkeys have done stellar work; it deserves to be recognized by the industry they are not in (but should be).

Finally, Santa, it would be great if we were all a bit kinder and more generous to our fellow man in 2020 — even if we disagree. We can all listen better.

Thanks for reading the Cog Blog this year (in ever-increasing numbers) and may you have a very Happy Christmas, and a wonderful and successful 2020.

Disclosure: BJ&A has done work for the7stars andByline Times, both mentioned here.

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