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August 30, 2012
In Advertising, All We Can Plan for is Chaos
 
How can agencies and brands think long-term anymore?
 
A few months ago, I was looking for some dictation software for my computer. Because hey, wouldn’t it be great to just ramble on for a few minutes and get this column done? I was almost about to buy a program when bam, Apple decided to incorporate dictation software into its Mountain Lion OS. Now, I don’t know what the future of the dictation company’s software is, but their plans got thrown a huge curveball.
 
How can anyone plan anything in today’s business world? And if our clients can’t plan much, how can ad agencies do any business planning?
 
Advertising and marketing agencies, like any business, need a certain level of goal-setting and long-term planning. But now more than ever, these plans can’t be set in stone — they require a dry erase whiteboard.
 
I once worked on a healthcare technology company whose marketing plans were, shall we say, fluid. They changed strategies every six months, changed sales and marketing executives just as fast, and had no ability to build a coherent brand. They were thrown by quick changes in technology, healthcare, and government policies, and they lacked the coping skills to adapt and build their business.
 
This uncertainty blows back on the advertising industry. We see it all the time. An agency lands business from a new client. Then, three months later, the client gets a new CMO or CEO who wants to dump the agency. And the way agencies are ridiculously slow to hire people, they could lose an account by the time they staff it properly.
 
Whether our clients are in a technology-related industry, or simply the technology we use to do our jobs, the evolution is happening faster than most of us can keep up with. And businesses, as institutional entities, will always lag behind no matter how much the people inside them push for change.
 
While the advertising business gets a reputation for being slow, most agencies work pretty fast these days. Even so, we’re reactive, not proactive. The creative we produce comes at the very end of the cycle — after all the client input, planning, research, and strategic thinking has been done, picked over, signed off on, and dropped into numerous PowerPoint decks. It’s no wonder everything’s due yesterday and behind schedule before the work even starts.
 
And even if we, or our clients, are out front of something, there’s simply no guarantee of long-term success. I recently received a hardcover book revealing the secrets to marketing on Pinterest. I suspect it’ll come in handy propping up my desk leg six months from now.
 
What’s ironic is that the sheer unpredictability and constant change of the advertising business are two of the things that make it so interesting and fun. Lots of successful ad people thrive on professional chaos. Many of us are attracted to these people for the maelstrom that circles around them.
 
The flipside is that often, our personal lives suffer from that chaos. I learned early on in my advertising career that the plan I needed most was an escape plan for whatever situation I was in. Because nothing in this world — a job, a client, a business model, a partner, a life — is guaranteed to be there tomorrow.
 
The shifts in business, technology, and markets are happening at lightning speeds right now. And ad agencies, as long as we are subject to our clients’ whims, will always be stuck in the middle. We may want to understand our clients’ businesses better and get a sense of future marketplace trends to bring ideas that might help with long-term success, but most advertising and marketing firms simply don’t have the trust of their clients to be anything more than a vendor.
 
So in addition to those writing skills and presentation skills, develop some coping skills and survival skills. Because if there’s one thing that’s guaranteed to be around next month, next year, and next decade, it’s a big dose of uncertainty.

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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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