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Ad Agents: The Good Ol' Days
By: Dwayne W. Waite Jr.
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If one cares to pursue a job and turn it into a career, our suggestion is to never stop learning about it. The moment one stops is the moment that other people will start to pass in terms of opportunity, notoriety, and, ultimately, success. 

Also, learning the history behind a job or industry will make one more aware of how the business environment became the way it is.

Like the advertising agency.

When in college, we knew that advertising agencies existed and were powerful forces of nature in AdLand. Yes, while in university, we were convinced that we would be hired as a branding specialist for Fleishman-Hillard (F-H). Though we even met and dined with the area's senior vice president, that dream failed to come to fruition. Yet, though we wanted to be there, we were unaware about how "there" started.

Perhaps it is our generational folly that we failed to ask further questions, or perhaps the knowledge (or lack of) about the rise of advertising agencies isn't as popular and readily available as one would imagine.

Back in the day (meaning, late 1800s, early 1900s), businesses were allowed to publish messages in media describing what they were offering and how the customer could buy it. When pictures and images became more popular, the modern-day advertisement started to appear.

But there was a policy: Each ad the business ran must be different.

How could a business design, create, and deliver a huge number of different ads? Hiring that amount of people in a single department, back then, was ridiculous to think about.

Enter advertising agents.

These "contractors" first started by offering to run the finished ad from the business to whatever media channel the business was using. Then, as business got bigger, advertising agents offered to help create advertisements for businesses, since such a huge number of ads had to be made, since magazines and papers would only run different ads.

Now, you see today's ad agency landscape: a group fighting not just for relevancy, but more just paying methods, no-spec work, and a decent relationship with brands.

What happened to the days when both sides saw the value in each other?

Back then, no company would say, "If you run 20 ads back to the media folks, we'll pay you no later than 30 days after you do it." No, that's bad business.

On the flip side, an ad agent back then wouldn't promise, "If we run 20 ads to the media folks, we'll guarantee a sales boost of 15%." No, that's poor forecasting and a lack of information.

It's clear that today's brands and agencies need to renew expectations and rules of the road in order to bring a happy face to everyone.

Hopefully, we can take a page from the past.

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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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