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May 10, 2005
Installing an Upgrade to Ad Industry 2.0
It’s been a month full of upgrades. First, I got a new cell phone. Then I upgraded to the Mac’s new “Tiger” OS. And then the folks at Talent Zoo launched a massive upgrade to their website which needed my assistance. Every one of these was time consuming and sometimes a pain in the ass, but I’m better off for doing them.

Technology is not the only thing that needs regular updating. You have to continually improve your skills to stay current. So are you upgrading your mind to make yourself a better ad professional? Is your agency upgrading itself?

I suppose there are some professions out there that don’t change very rapidly. Not advertising. Even if you’ve been in business for just 10 years, you’ve seen it change completely. (I always wonder whether David Ogilvy, if he were alive today, would send a PDF of an ad to a client for approval.)

Some ad people need to be dragged kicking and screaming into the present day. I can recall being an intern in 1993, when I helped a 50-something art director use a Mac for the first time. He resisted getting a computer in his office for the longest time—and was shocked when I showed him how easy it was to move margins in Microsoft Word.

Later on I encountered the CEO who had no clue how to go about buying and installing an internal agency e-mail system. The Luddite CD who never read his e-mail. The other CD who frowned upon office use of the Internet—except when he used it to poach concept ideas and look at porn when he could get away with it. So when these agencies’ competitors (and their clients’ competitors) make forward strides or embrace new technologies and ideas, they were left dumbfounded.

Part of the problem is so many ad professionals devote a lot of time to do their job—and try to have a life outside of work. There’s little time to improve your knowledge to make yourself aware of current trends in business or culture.

In contrast, young people & college students have free time, open minds, campuses usually stocked with the latest technology, and friends who are into discovering new things. That’s the power of junior-level talent. People entrenched in this business or comfortable in their positions are, for the most part, notoriously reluctant to change. As a result, they quickly become dinosaurs.

Staying relevant pays off—look at Bill Gates. It’s known that twice a year, Bill Gates spends a week at a secluded cabin where all he does is read. Magazines, books, and reams of internal Microsoft paper and reports. Tons of stuff. And that’s the week when he thinks hard and makes the crucial decisions that affect the company’s direction.

Does your agency’s CEO do that? Are the people in your shop abreast of how fast the ad world is changing? Are they aware of what’s going on inside their own business? Or are they still thinking they’re one great 30-second network commercial away from fame and glory?

Like all human beings, ad people are creatures of habit. However, that’s no excuse. If you want to remain relevant, you have to keep yourself up-to-date. Discover new influences. New technology. New methods of problem-solving. And if you’re in a powerful position in the ad biz, change can’t simply be something you talk about. Your agency has to actively find new ways to hire people, manage the business, deal with clients and stimulate everybody to produce better work. Otherwise you’ll face a downward slide—maybe not a quick one, but a gradual decline for certain.

I plan to keep upgrading myself. Because I know contented people in advertising are everywhere—and if you’re one of them, send your resume over to N.W. Ayer. I heard a while back they might be hiring folks to work on Eastern Airlines.

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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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