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January 20, 2011
Do You Have an “Off” Switch?
Keeping up with the always-on nature of our jobs gets tougher all the time.
The call came in at 6:00 AM, Pacific time. I was in Oregon on vacation. It was my art director, who was calling from the East Coast looking for some headlines—ones I’d emailed him the day before on my way back from kayaking. He hadn’t bothered to check his email before calling. I dutifully answered the call and went back to sleep.
If you work in advertising or in any sort of white-collar job in corporate America, then you know that business doesn’t stop anymore. There’s always a project or initiative to start, modify, or finish, across time zones at all hours of the day. Or is that what employers expect you to think? Can we truly hit the “off” switch for our working days anymore?
You might be thinking, “Hey idiot, just make yourself unplug once in a while. It’s good for you.” Yes, on an intellectual level, I get that. It’s not that I think I’m indispensable. It’s the notion that the minute I’m not available, I’ll be dispensed with.
I used to hate cell phones. Now I can’t leave mine behind. Three hours without it and I have withdrawal. Work emails come through with push notifications that I hear, so I jump to respond. I can’t go very long without checking my Twitter stream or Facebook page for fear I’ll miss some nugget of news or information that’s important for me to know.
It’s not healthy. Human beings are not physiologically built for the always-on communication world and the constant stream of information. We’re doing our best to keep up—but it’s getting harder and harder for most of us.
This issue pervades much of our society. But let’s explore what’s unique to the marketing world in all of this.
Technology has given us a never-ending stream of marketing opportunities. And it means we believe consumers willingly embrace it all. That they want to be hit with coupons the minute they walk into a store. That sending text messages and offers to their mobile devices will be welcome. And that they want us as marketers to know where they are geographically, down to the very spot, because we’ll be able give them something they’ll find more valuable.
Yes, many people use their mobile devices to stay always-on for their friends. But does the same really hold true for marketing? Is the ability to reach customers anywhere a privilege we should earn or a tactic we simply consider fair game? Are we projecting our own behavior onto consumers, thinking they’ll simply adapt and comply?
There’s also more at issue here than simply reaching consumers anywhere and anytime. The rapid-fire social media and PR environment we’ve created now demands a rapid response from brands, or a mechanism for handling one when needed. A crisis, even a seemingly minor one, can blow up fast–even in a matter of minutes or hours. And unless front-line first responders have the power to fix or diffuse the situation, everyone in the chain of command needs to be prepared to make decisions and act.
Ad agencies and marketing firms are stretched thin as it is. It’s increasingly difficult to keep a core team in place that’s always accessible and we can’t always have a backup person in place for an immediate request. Taking quick action also requires a substantial amount of full-time staff with a deeper base of knowledge about the client and its business—which is also a trend we’re moving away from.
Think about your own job: Is someone prepared to handle certain situations when you’re off the grid? Even if it’s not an immediate problem on a large scale, what would happen if you or the team you work with disappeared for a day?
The 24/7 world of marketing won’t stop. I believe that soon, successful marketing efforts will be measured by the rapid response structure built into the idea, on a par with creativity, sales, or effectiveness. I’m seeing this more and more: Ideas being praised in advertising awards shows and generating buzz in the marketing world these days involve a sense of instant timeliness more than their long-term branding or sales potential. And many ad agencies and marketing firms, and many of the people who work in them, simply aren’t prepared to handle those types of efforts.
For those of us who work in advertising, the problem of being always on is a collective one–but the adjustment is always personal. So how do you cope? Have you resigned yourself to be always on or have you figured out when to unplug?
One thing’s for certain: Advertising and marketing these days is built for speed, and built with no “off” switch. We have to adjust.
Time will tell, however, whether consumers will be so sick of the constant stream of marketing they’ll hit the “off” switch on everything we do. It might be a needed break for all of us.

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Since 2002, Dan Goldgeier has been writing the most provocative advertising columns about advertising and marketing -- over 170 of them, covering every related topic you can think of. Now based in Seattle, Dan is a copywriter and ad school graduate who's worked at shops big and small. 

Visit his copywriting websitesee his LinkedIn profile or follow him on Twitter.

And please, buy his book for 99 cents.


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