Change management

15 Jul

This is a very personal blog post. It isn’t about whacky ads or social media or bad logos. It’s about my industry’s survival.

It doesn’t matter what business you work in. When the rules fundamentally change, as they are now, there will always be those companies and individuals who simply can’t – or won’t – adjust.

I think of stores like Virgin Records or A&B Sound. When music went digital and consumers’ money went to iTunes, these once mighty retail environments tried everything to keep their heads above water: live music in the stores, loyalty programs, massive discounting, co-ops with other struggling industries (like magazine and newspaper publishing). Their model, however, remained fundamentally unchanged.

But listen: that sound you’ve been hearing is the traditional music retail store going down the toilet, with many of its publishing cohorts following noisily behind.

Imagine the lives of the people who work in those retail environments. Think about how frustrating and fear-inducing it is to be constantly staring down the barrel. There is no future, only a desperate scramble to consolidate.

And now in advertising we are going through a similar period of massive change. Honestly, the change has already happened:  the consumer has taken over. They are dictating the terms of engagement. The inmates are running the asylum. Businesses, and their agencies, have had to adapt at an astonishing pace.

It’s about the reality of a digital world. Everything starts with digital because ultimately everything is going to go there. Think about crowd sourcing, engagement strategies, social media. Big changes in a short time. Freaks people out.

The difference between the ad industry and the music industry I believe is the quality of leadership in the former. While the music industry has struggled to hang onto their dwindling provinces, the best of the ad folks are changing, adapting and re-inventing.

It’s not something you have the luxury of sitting around and mulling over. The need for change is immediate. I don’t imagine every agency will see the urgency to make the leap, and there will be those who watch their influence decline commensurate with their billings, hanging grimly on to the last vestiges of familiar turf – traditional media, compensation models, success metrics – until the bitter end.

It takes a deft touch to manage the fear and uncertainty that accompanies revolutionary times.  I am thankful for the individuals who have come my way this year to offer wisdom, encouragement and inspiration.

But I am absolutely energized by the times. The saving grace of my industry will be the inherent creativity of the inhabitants who dwell there. There is always a solution to any challenge, unique to its variables. That’s our creed.

Now the challenge is the advertising model itself? Bring it on.

The job of any agency leader in 2010 is very different then it was in 2005. Today, the leader has to navigate uncertainty, dispel fear and compel change.

I think it’s time we changed our job titles to Change Managers. That’s the most pressing value of our work these days.


2 Responses to “Change management”

  1. Mario Parise July 16, 2010 at 6:24 am #

    I don’t disagree that times are a-changing, but I think we might have different ideas about that change means.

    I was re-reading (for the nth time… such a good read) “Scientific Advertising” by Claude C. Hopkins. His major thesis is that advertising is salesmanship, and advertisers would find a lot more success if they stopped thinking of themselves as ad-makers but as salespeople.

    When a sales person goes door-to-door, they don’t get to broadcast some one-way message. They have to find a a way to get the person’s attention, convince them that a conversation would be worth their while, and convey the benefits of the product during that conversation.

    The changes we’re seeing now don’t fundamentally change what salesmanship is about.

    Traditional advertising, in most cases, still works wonders. So I wouldn’t jump ship quite yet.

    More to the point, social media is a lot like a door-to-door sales man. If you show up, bang on the door, talk loudly about yourself and ask them to buy buy buy, you’re going to fail. But if you show up and politely insinuate yourself in the space, finding ways to add value that also tie back to your product, then you find success.

    Hopkins repeatedly said that success in advertising was about offering service, so that through that service (which you offered for free) people came to appreciate your value and would reciprocate many times over with purchases.

    His concept of advertising seems extremely relevant today, doesn’t it?

  2. dougbrowncreative July 16, 2010 at 10:00 am #

    Mario, it’s always so good to see a comment from you. I know in advance it will be illuminating and will require some thinking on my part!

    In response I would only point out that what’s happening now is that the person answering the door is telling the sales person she has already bought that item online, thanks. Then she’s closing the door and going back to the computer.

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