Reflections by Linda Locke: What will never change

In which the author contrasts a bygone agency structure with today’s high-pressure environment and highlights the one thing that hasn’t changed in 40 years.

40 years is a long time and in some ways nothing has changed and in other ways so much has changed. From television and print as the dominant medium upon which entire corporations such as P&G structured their research and benchmarking standards, we have these media reduced to pale shadows of their former selves. Industry players have had to move from catching eyeballs in fixed focussed mediums, to a fragmented audience that is often viewing multiple screens whilst blogging, tweeting, or chatting on Facebook.

Instead of the TV set and its channels we have moved to cable, Apple TV and now arguably YouTube—probably one of the most watched channels on the planet. We have moved from content created by the few for the many, to content created by the many, seen by so many globally—often free of charge—on phones, tablets, computers and TV screens whilst sitting or on the move. As testimony to the power of YouTube a man who decided to film himself doing a jig everywhere he travelled for a laugh became an internet sensation, leading to him becoming the star of a global Visa campaign—you guessed it—doing his jig all the way through it.

Within the agency structure we have moved from a robust model, the cornerstone of which was the trilogy of creative, media and account planning and management, to the splintered structure that saw 80 per cent of the revenue move out as media agencies became businesses in their own right.

Whilst profitable as a business, the loss of media placed a heavy toll on the creative agency’s revenues and the agency’s flexibility in how it could support client businesses affordably. As pressures grew on marketing department budgets, so in turn marketing directors put pressure on their agencies and agencies became more and more squeezed for profit. What made it worse was clients continued to expect high creative standards for less cost, as one client said to me, “We expect first-world creative at third-world prices.”

In addition, as digital has grown from a niche category to be as important as TV once was, it has created more demand on the agencies as they have had to staff up to meet demand or find themselves partnering with experts in the field such as digital producers, Facebook strategists and writers and PR companies able to work across the online and offline platforms. All at unprecedented speed.

What has not changed in 40 years is that human beings will always respond to deeply human stories. Stories whether in print, on the web or on cable TV or in experiences created by brands that surprise, delight and engage. These stories, underpinned by incisive insights and powerful ideas, will always be at the heart of memorable human engagement and allow a brand to be meaningful and resonate in the lives of human beings.

Linda Locke is CEO and creative director of Godmother Consulting.

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