I hear many stories about ad agencies and their failure to lead or innovate. It is especially troubling when they have an opportunity to take the reins and fail to do so. What follows is just one of many examples I have seen or heard.
Just three years ago, I interviewed a wonderful executive who had been doing mobile marketing and advertising since the mid-nineties; she started in mobile marketing long before most of us even knew it existed.. Not before or since have I met anyone with so much depth in mobile. I thought she was extraordinary and had some amazing things to say about the future of this medium. At the time we met, there was very little mobile advertising being done and I thought she could bring her expertise to an ad agency.
I was totally wrong.
I called five agency presidents who were friends; two were from very sizable firms. Only one of the five wanted to see her and he was from the smallest of the agencies I called. The others, in one way or another, said that they didn’t know how to monetize mobile and were therefore not interested. I told each of them that she could help them do that. They turned me down and were not interested in meeting her. The one who did see her told her that he didn’t have the money in his budget to hire her, even as a consultant.
About six months ago, one of the people I called remembered our conversation and asked if she was still available to meet, but she is now leading mobile at one of the major mobile advertisers. Not surprisingly, rather than dealing with a traditional or even a digital agency, she has taken her business to a mobile shop.
In just these past three years, mobile is now in the forefront of media activity. At least five ad agencies missed their opportunity to lead and, perhaps, get into the forefront of one of the most important trends in communications.
It saddens me to see that ad agencies can’t seem to get ahead of the curve. Where are the visionaries? Why can’t agencies push their clients into new technology and new avenues of creativity rather than waiting for their clients to push them? Why can’t traditional agencies push themselves?
The traditional ad agencies have ceded innovation to the media and digital agencies, which now seem to be on the forefront of new avenues for communications. It is a shame that the creative agencies just don’t seem able to get there. One of the issues is that the creative ad agencies seem to be consumed with their existing day-to-day executional problems while the media agencies are always looking for new ways to grow and build revenues. However, by not leading in innovation, they put themselves at risk of losing even more credibility.
Once upon a time, ad agencies functioned in this domain. Originally, television commercials were all sixty seconds. It was agencies who developed the :30” and the :10. It was agency research departments which developed psychographics and agencies which developed the concept of account planning. Sadly, during the last fifteen or twenty years, there have been few innovations which have come out of the traditional side of the business.
Can anyone explain this to me and does anyone have a solution?