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The future of the communications industry is not quite as we know it

By Jono Marcus

February 4, 2013 | 6 min read

A panel session with some sixth formers discussing the communications industry leads Jono Marcus, digital partner at marketing communications agency Inkling to offer his views on the industry of the future and how the agencies will be formed to service it.

Recently, I was asked to take part in a question and answer session with some sixth formers who were looking to get into the communications industry. The questions they asked were often: "How many ideas would I be expected to come up with in a day?", but were very rarely: "Should I go into PR or media-buying or advertising?" The students reflected an audience that has grown up in a converged media culture and cares about great ideas, rather than great ads, or great PR stunts. A generation that presumes everything will end up on YouTube at some point anyway, whatever format it started out on.

The digital-savvy teens reflect the future of the communications industry, reliant on a combination of creativity and technical intelligence (or at least technical sensitivity). A technologist's thinking and a creative's inspiration does not need to come from one person, as such people are rare; but, certainly these two talents need to come from people in increasingly close proximity in the future.

The PR and newer ad agency models of the early 2000s will soon be killed-off, because they were all about being able to say in one breath a) what the idea is and b) how it could be achieved in one neat package. This was their massive competitive advantage, up to now. However, in the communications industry of the future, the emphasis will once again full firmly on the creative side, with the quality of the idea being the most valuable currency, in a landscape where digital and new technologies are making almost any type of execution possible if enough care is applied. Thinking of the idea in the first place will be what matters most. It is however, crucial that those coming up with the big ideas do eventually have the staff, contacts or network (wherever in the world those maybe) with the highly sophisticated or cutting-edge technological know-how to activate “anything is possible” ideas. Faris Yakob even put out the provocation that the technological aspect will become so important that in the future clients may judge creative on the quality of the coding behind it, not the final creative and copy.

The communications industry of the future will still have the odd agency that sells itself on the format of the end output. For example it will only execute in one format, like only producing print and TV ads, but these will be exceptions to the rule, fighting to survive in a marketplace geared to give them lower and lower returns for that narrow vision or skill-set. This view was backed up by the sixth formers I met, who saw working in marketing as an art form, not a science of having specific know-how in either just PR, or advertising or media deals. Instead, a blend of all disciplines, with enough technical awareness to see how imaginative concepts could become a reality with the new possibilities of cutting-edge technologies. Seth Godin describes this phenomena of thinking like an artist before worrying about end results in his book on the future of successful business, The Icarus Deception, describing: "a lifetime spent noticing begins to turn into the ability to see what others can't".

These teens, who represent the future of the communications industry, are digital natives, their smartphones are my generation's laptops. This means that there will simply be no place in the industry in the future for those that want to dodge acquiring a mixture of computing, digital and technological skills. At the very least they must demonstrate understanding how crucial digital is in their job and offer a perspective on that. However, the future communications agency won't just be full of technologists.

The agency of the future will be chock full of people with psychology, anthropology and art degrees. This is because in the digital age, almost every piece of communications created lives or dies in the hands of dialogue with a very active and well-heard audience, whom can each act as micro broadcasters to thousands and millions within their own digital networks. The understanding of what makes people (and groups of people) tick: their wants and dreams, becomes more important than ever. So, ultimately who better for your future ad agency than an anthropologist-artist-coding-creative-planner?

Walk around inside the communications agency of the future and you will see people not only with very different backgrounds and skillsets to the majority today’s professionals, but doing different things too. Expect to see a couple of people huddled over a new communications invention with a soldering iron, shouting across to someone rewriting the computer coding that makes it work, next to the artist who is hosting a viewing of the process, which is being beamed to millions of followers over a live-stream. In short the communications industry of tomorrow we be primarily concerned with inventing new kinds of communication solutions, not as at present with simply exploiting the current formats.


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