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AdLand: More Crowded Than We Thought
By: Dwayne W. Waite Jr.
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Sometimes it is worth taking a step back and looking at a situation in a different light. As an advertising professional, especially in the agency world, we are obligated to stay up to date with the happenings of the industry. We, as well as you, keep abreast of the news from Adweek, AdAge, MediaPost, Ad Contrarian, Forbes, NY Times, LA Times, TechCrunch, and the like to make sure we know the latest trends and technology. We know the movers and shakers. We see who is losing the big accounts and who is winning them.

But when we concentrate our time reading from those sources, we develop a sense of the industry that may not be entirely accurate. We started to focus on the "icy grip" holding groups were taking on agencies and the advertising world; we started critiquing the cries for talent and more creativity. We wrote more on the lack of black people and women in leadership positions. We all constantly hear about the small and tight-knit world of advertising.

Is it all true?

The assertions should certainly be questioned. Michael Blanding interviewed Harvard professor Alvin Silk about the changing of the advertising landscape and the agencies that roam it, and his studies and findings are fascinating. Silk has focused his time and energy on the economics of advertising agencies and how and why they behave the way they do. From studying compensation models to competition, Silk has published several papers about the advertising agency model and its changes from the 1960s to today.

Silk asserts that the industry has changed tremendously since the "Golden Age" of the 1960s, which is a good thing. The full-service agency isn't nearly as popular as it once was, either. According to the research, only 23% of agencies offered specialized services in 1987, compared to 65% in 2007.

Also, the market is as competitive and loose as it's ever been. Silk and his colleagues found that the four largest holding companies in the industry account for only 25% of the total industry revenue in the U.S., and has stayed around that percentage for the past decade.

Some icy grip.

It makes sense. The industry news we follow cannot and will not cover every single happening in our industry. Covering the big guys is easy and shapes the conversation. Sure, the major topics like diversity and creativity will continue to pop up now and then, but the industry itself is full of bustling, small, and agile shops that do not deserve to be thrown in the pot with the ones snagging the headlines.

The advertising landscape is competitive, fruitful, and full of shops that specialize, offer full services, and deliver. Regardless what our industry media says, AdLand isn't as concentrated and stagnant as we're led to believe.

That's a good thing.

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About the Author
Dwayne W. Waite Jr. is partner and principal at JDW: The Charlotte Agency, a marketing and advertising shop in Charlotte, NC. He enjoys consumer behavior, economics, and football.
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