What have been the biggest influences of change in the marketing services industry in the last 35 years? That was the question put to a panel of Scotland’s leading marketing professionals last month.
“When I first came into this business the pace of change was more predictable, we almost knew how we would be working five or 10 years down the line,” says Ian Kirkby. “However, now, in two years time it could all totally change.”
“It is difficult to imagine something as radical as the internet happening again in the next 20 years,” admits Mark Gorman. “It has completely changed the landscape. Now, if a client was to present a blank brief to you there are so many different things you can do. Things you couldn’t have dreamt of 20 years ago.”
“It’s made my job a hell of a lot more exciting and interesting with all the new opportunities,” concludes Gillian Cairney. “Whole new industries have been forged that we just couldn’t anticipate.”
Talk turns to the challenges faced over the past 35 years and how these challenges are different to the problems the industry is faced with today.
“Clients are becoming much more savvy. There are so many different avenues for them to explore. That has raised the game for everyone. The way clients communicate and expect you to communicate with the audience is extremely different now.” says Lyndsay Menzies. “Of course, the internet and online marketing is a rapidly growing media which has changed the landscape of the industry beyond recognition. And fragmentation – fuelled largely by the internet, but also digital TV and radio too – has led to a shift in many a marketing pie. But this change is not over yet.” continues Menzies.
“The mix has – and will – continue to change dramatically. The problem for media and creative agencies alike is that the market has become so much more niche. We have gone from broadcasting to narrowcasting. We are developing TV programmes for train-spotters that are sold on websites. As an advertiser, how do you target these groups? But, at
the end of the day, digital is nothing more than a massive opportunity to take creative ideas to market and to engage with customers.” Menzies concludes.
While technology has opened up a plethora of new avenues to client, agency and consumer alike, making things possible that couldn’t even have been imagined before, does it have a more sinister side too? Could it be behind a devaluation of the services that the marketing industry provides? If ideas are the currency, does technology allow less time to trade... in short, less time for thinking?
“Technology has speeded up the process, but it is so important that we allocate the correct timescales to deliver robust creative thinking” says Douglas Alexander.
Ian Kirkby agrees “Technology has maybe twisted the client’s perception of the value of what the idea’s worth. A client always seems to think that because the secretary can put this together in Word, that it is the same process. To maintain a core design strategy with balanced typography and imagery is a skill that can only be built up with critically the correct tuition and then years of experience.
Only then can this be done effectively.”
Another area that has very much been driven by technology is the fact that everything can now be evaluated right down to the last degree – for better or for worse...
“One of the problems that we all face now is that we have so much data, that clients want to mine right into it. They over-mine the data to find their answers,” says Menzies. “That is one of the things that the media independents have been at the forefront of driving – accountability,” continues Cairney. “Consumer insight, research, econometrics... On the whole, I think this move has been very positive for clients. “But sometimes, when everything gets tried and tested, a little gumption is lost and people are scared to try different ideas.”
However, there are areas that are, as yet, beyond the reach of accountability, claims Menzies. “Social media is a good example of a medium that no one has come up with a metric to measure yet. As such, clients often think ‘how can I contribute ‘x’ amount of my marketing budget to that when I know exactly what I am getting for this chunk of my budget? This search for complete accountability is causing problems in new areas of marketing.”
“Everything we do should be accountable, though,” argues Alexander. “And that has always been the case. If you are doing packaging for a whisky, why are you doing it? Because you want to sell more whisky. You want to gain more retail value. It has certainly made it more difficult. But it’s an open market.”
Over the last 35 years, it is not just how we communicate with the consumer that has changed. How we communicate with each other has also been altered.
“Nowadays we get more client contact,” states Cairney. “But I don’t think that it’s quality contact. There are less face-to-face meetings and that is something that we are really conscious of. But it is something that we, as an industry, need to push for as it can’t be replaced. Because of the time pressures placed on everyone, ultimately a lot more communication is done via email. That said, I certainly don’t miss standing at a fax machine faxing copies through to a client,” “Sometimes it is all too easy to rely on emails. But that relationship of trust developed in one-to-one meetings cannot be replicated.”
These changes have also spread to the internal workings of the agency – a place renowned for its creativity and inspiring outlook.
“You go into some offices now and it is like walking into a call centre without any calls,” says Gorman. “Rows and rows of people typing away furiously. They come in at nine o’clock and leave at five o’clock and haven’t spoken to anyone. And this has stretched into the creative departments too – as Macs have taken over the traditional tools of old,” continues Gorman: “Art directors and copywriters used to be joined at the hip. They would talk to each other all day, every day. Now they often work in different rooms. How do you come up with a collaborative idea if you are not collaborating?”
“And your day stutters along because of all these different interruptions,” nods Kirkby in acknowledgement. “Technology has certainly made a huge difference to the way we work or don’t work as the case may be. Design is not a process that can be done in isolation - the really exciting part of the process is when you get a group of creative people together and everybody takes an idea off in different directions. You can’t do this by email!”
Instant messaging has made a huge impact,” interjects Menzies. “A lot of clients insist that we use Skype because of speed and ease with which we can communicate and we also use it internally to talk to each other between offices . But such platforms can be invasive if not used properly and you have to ensure that people don’t end up frittering away their day on useless chat.”
The consensus of the group seems to be that there is constant change and only those who recognise and adapt to it will succeed. New technology has led to new channels of communication, and the problems of how best to target the audience have only been fragmented, not changed. However, while the assembled panel agree that a lot has changed – from increased fragmentation to the introduction of media independents and the internet – the issues facing the industry remain largely the same: The big idea is still the key, with agencies selling their thinking as their core value.
Douglas Alexander believes “what we are still selling is quality thinking and in the end technology can be a tool to deliver that thinking.”
“I agree,” adds Cairney. “Sometimes we get driven down the path of technology, just for technology’s sake when, in actual fact, what really works well is a really good idea. It is the ideas that then allow technology to come into its own.”
“While all this is true,” concludes Kirkby “let’s not forget, the big idea in whatever form comes from fresh thinking and this often comes from the new talent just out of university or college, eager to make it big in the industry. So if agencies are selling creativity we have a responsibility to invest in tomorrow’s thinkers.”