Have you seen that AdAge Series, PLAN B? It is an ongoing dialog about the state of our industry, and it's as enlightening as it is scary. If you have not read it, do so when you have a chance. After I did, I started looking for someone, anyone to blame. All those bad decisions...who could I blame? Then, for some odd reason, I decided to look inside for a culprit. Where did I go wrong in this mess? It is something I suggest we all do. We can blame our industry's situation on the economy, big business, or the government, but the truth is that it's our fault. We are the innovators and the creators. We build brands and lead the way. We determine the direction. We construct the future.
At some point, we became followers. We became corporations. We accepted status quo. We bought our competitors and became complacent.
We became Remoras...content suckerfish attached to Big Fish for protection, transportation, and food. Although supposedly a symbiotic relationship, the truth of the matter is that we need them to survive, and they don't need us at all. So, as we free wheeled through the ocean, traveling vast distances but never really getting anywhere, we were scraped off and left behind. With no transportation, protection, or food, what are we supposed to do now? "Hey, let's look for another Big Fish to provide for us." Well, guess what? The big fish had their own problems and moved to the other side of the ocean, leaving us no way to get there.
Am I wrong? Perhaps a bit foolish? Probably. On the other hand, maybe I just see it differently. As the innovators, creators, builders, and leaders, it falls on us to do the right thing for our clients' best interest, all the time. Even if it means openly disagreeing. I've sat through meetings, sans client, with their marketing plans spread out in front of us, knowing straight out that they would not work, or that were riddled with holes. Did we call our clients and say; "You know, this plan looks great, but, our research tells us that it probably won't work. And here is why..." Nope. We presented them with options to choose from, but never told them what we actually recommended. We were never bluntly honest.
Clients pay us for service, expertise, and insight. As an agency, it is our job to be the watchdogs, the experts, and protectors. We know our brands intimately; we helped build them. Therefore, we should have the foresight to know what's coming. Which of us looked at the state of the auto industry and told our clients the truth? How many of us reminded our banking clients that offering high-risk loans was a long-term mistake? Which of us stood up for what we KNEW was right, even if it meant risking the relationship?
We let them down, and now we are paying for our sins. Unlike the other industries, don't expect a bail out...we don't produce anything tangible.
Do you want to be of value to your clients? Be Honest. Be Unmerciful. Otherwise, we will continue to strangle this business that we love.