Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Why Are Account People Turning To Digital?

The advertising job market is sluggish, at best.  But digital advertising is growing dramatically.  It is where the jobs are now.  I have watched as account executives, account supervisors and their creative counterparts have abandoned the general advertising market for the digital world.

Many of these people falsely believe that digital is the entire future of advertising and communications.  They want to be there.  We have seen all of this before, not with digital, but with other advertising disciplines.  In the eighties there was tremendous growth in direct marketing.  People ran to it because of its accountability.  Then there was promotion; people ran there because it showed results.  The proponents of these disciplines proclaimed that advertising was dead.  And then there were the dot coms.  Each of these trends rises and then takes its rightful place as a tool of communication.  So it will be with digital.  

People are running to digital because it is, well, sexy.  For now.

Who knows where it is going or what it will be in a few years.  What we do know is that the field is growing and that growth has its own allure.  The problem with digital for those trying to build a career there is that it is highly tactical and executional.  Digital is only strategic in the sense that it takes its direction from other elements of communications and advertising.

However, the trend cannot be denied.  I suspect that much of the lure of digital comes from inherent dissatisfaction with the advertising business as it has evolved.  Once upon a time, people were drawn to the advertising business by television programs.  When I first started recruiting I had lots of people tell me that they were attracted to the business because of Bewitched.  I suspect that Mad Men is doing the same.  But the reality of the business differs dramatically from the perceptions created by these wonderful programs.

There is very little fun in the business these days.  There are no longer water fights (literally and figuratively) in the creative departments.  Account people rarely entertain their clients and three martini lunches are only a distant memory.  Going on a store-check with your client in order to bond with them and discover the realities of the retail market place just isn’t done any more. Road trips to go on shoots used to be a reward for hard work; often with a few extra days at the location.  Today, they are merely continuance of that hard work with little free time built into the process.  

Most important, account people are not exposed to the true strategic and creative process until they are in the business for many years.

Once upon a time, every young account person was given creative projects of their own.  It might have been trade advertising.  It might have been some sub-set like handling the military and premium advertising for a brand.  I can remember being given total responsibility for Canadian advertising of one of my clients.  Canada was mine.  So was the Toronto client. I was so proud to do this.  I was in my early twenties.  It build both pride and experience.  (Years later, long after I left the agency, I was asked to my Canadian client's daughter's wedding.)

It just doesn’t happen today at most agencies.

Consequently, I believe many young people are drawn to digital in search of the excitement, pride and creativity that they thought they would have in the general advertising world.

I am sure that in time they will discover that all that glitters is not gold.


  1. "Digital is only strategic in the sense that it takes its direction from other elements of communications and advertising." Wow. No wonder you're confused as to why people are leaving if this is what you think is going on in digital. The reason people are fleeing to digital is that the boundaries between advertising and core business and product design are collapsing. The projects I work on could not be more core to the client's business-we're developing new services and new products. With digital, truly, the medium is becoming the message. What could be more exciting than that?

  2. @Anonymous: Never said digital wasn't exciting. Indeed, it is. But even senior executives at the major digital shops are saying that they want it to be more strategic rather than tactical.

  3. Hi Paul,

    As you understand, marketing changes with the way we communicate with each other and these changes are happening at a break neck pace! The costs of these newer communications fit well into the current corporate mantra of maximizing dollars spent and cost cutting efficiencies that departments such as procurement live for.

    CMO's are always asking for ROI numbers to help justify their marketing budgets.

    Direct marketing offered that because they were able to better identify the marketing results of their target market which digital is also able to do. The newer frontiers of social media and mobile phone marketing are driven as well to identifying ROI which is still more a WIP. Thus, there is an increase in demand for workers in these areas with fewer seasoned employees.

    These marketing methods all finite the customer base which, along with the less expensive cost of communication compared to general advertising, is supposed to increase the ROI per dollar spent.

    The media buying services who used to be at the poor end of the marketing spectrum are now very profitable, bringing in a great amount of strategic dollars to identify the labyrinth of where to place advertising dollars to reach the ideal customer.

    Media research companies, although not very sexy, will be the straw that stirs the marketing mix drinks for some time. The "Money Ball" approach to a better mouse trap.

    I think, when people start to rebel about being directly targeted for advertising, and some already are, general advertising can have a resurgence and be in vogue again.

    Best Regards,

  4. Barney: You hit the nail on the head as to why companies are increasing their digital budgets. It is less expensive out of pocket and ROI is high. As for why people are rushing there, it is exciting, fun and the growth potential remains tremendous. And I stand behind what I said: they are disappointed in advertising. But you are right in that everything will ultimately settle down and achieve balance.


I would welcome your comments, suggestions or anything you would like to share with me or my readers.

Creative Commons License