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January 3, 2014
Why the Marketing Pie is Becoming Mush
Every agency wants more business — whether they can handle it or not
A while back, I met with an agency whose background was in environmental design and branding. Talented folks. If you wanted a package design, a tradeshow display or some brand identity work, they’d knock it out of the park. But they also claimed to do advertising campaigns, and the samples they showed me lacked ideas, concepts, and polish.
Everyone’s grabbing for more pieces of the marketing pie, and it’s getting increasingly messy. So what’s the consequence of angling for a bigger share? How can ad people, agencies, and marketers effectively deal with all the crossover attempts?
The signs of cross-capability messiness are all around: PR firms and design firms are trying to hire copywriters. Consulting firms are buying digital shops. Production companies are feverishly developing brand videos. And everyone remotely connected to marketing is now preaching the gospel of “content” or “storytelling” — but they all define those terms differently.
You can’t really fault a design firm or PR firm for trying to say, “we’ll do your brand identity — and sure, we can handle the advertising too.” And you can’t blame ad agencies for wanting to branch out into new areas. Because doing so represents more organic revenue. It’s a proactive business move. And it sounds great in a press release.
Too often though, advertising and marketing firms look at their work as a series of ingredients: All they need is to mix the elements, throw it in the oven, and boom! Baked — or rather, half-baked — ideas come right out. Beautifully shot videos without concepts. Digital ideas that are online ads without much depth or technological sophistication. Content that lacks substance, purpose, and strategy.
Not every client has the wherewithal to hire a slew of different firms for its various marketing pieces. Consequently, they’re left cluelessly trying to figure out who can solve their problems. So what happens? A marketer might hire a design firm to do its advertising, and the result will be work that looks like design concepts, not advertising concepts. Experienced people know the difference, but not everyone does.
Is all of this pie-fighting a problem?
Maybe, maybe not. But all marketing and advertising firms have their own goals, and they’re not necessarily aligned with those of their clients. Expanded services and experimentation are noble pursuits for ad agencies and marketing firms, except they’re doing it with client money. And they're often not delivering the best product.
If you’re hiring any kind of marketing firm, it’s always good to look at the DNA of who you’re considering. Start with their website. For example, if you can’t find anyone with a creative background in the leadership section, then don’t expect creativity to be a priority. Don’t expect much PR assistance if there isn’t anyone in upper management trained in it. And if you’re looking for a job, watch out: You also won’t find recruiters or project managers with much knowledge of job roles that the firm doesn’t traditionally hire.
We don’t live in a world where marketing firms stay tightly focused on one type of work. They take whatever new business they can get. Ironically, it's a form of the old “spray and pray” approach advertisers used to take when they couldn’t define their audience, position their brand, or determine the most effective use of their budget.
I hope as the marketing pie gets mushier, more marketing and advertising firms — and all of us who work in them — learn from the best of who’s out there when trying to broaden our approach. Learn from the best advertising, design, digital or PR. Not to copy the results but to study the process. Maybe that involves more training. Or more research. Or more strategy. Or simply more creative freedom.
There’s plenty of pie to go around. Let’s aim to get the most out of the slices we're fortunate enough to grab. Otherwise we’ll eventually go hungry.

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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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