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One thing I would change in advertising: the media agencies killing creativity - Patrick Collister

Patrick Collister

Have you ever thought about making things better and cutting out the crap? Creative Social has invited five industry leaders to share the one thing they would change in advertising at the #CSpresents event on 3 September.

Ahead of that event, we thought we’d give three of those leaders the chance to share another thing they’d like to change, and we start today with the very honest Patrick Collister from Google...

In the Golden Age of British advertising, people used to joke that they watched telly for the ads.

Agencies like CDP, BMP, Saatchi’s and a handful of others made commercials which were both enjoyable and memorable.

So, how come so much advertising today is crap?

I blame Mindshare.

Oh, alright, not Mindshare alone but ZenithOptimedia, Carat, MediaCom, the whole lot of ‘em.

Media agencies.

They are now openly challenging creative agencies for their clients’ advertising budgets.

Look at a few websites.

“We are single mindedly focused on delivering great work.” (ZenithOptimedia)

We trade in “smart ideas” and “faultless execution”. (Mindshare)

They are speaking the language of creative agencies.

MEC Global has just appointed a global creative director.

And at Cannes, Mediacom’s seminar was on “How to unlock your inner creativity”.

What they are doing is simply finding more beguiling ways of selling what they have always sold. Numbers.

Look at it this way.

Imagine you’re a client. You go to a media agency. Based on what you did last year and the years before that, their software can help tighten up the media plan and guarantee a return on investment of, oooh, 6 per cent.

You’re a client. You go to a creative agency. The creative director shows you a campaign and you ask, “What sort of ROI do you expect?”

And he says, “Haven’t a clue, mate.”

Who do you go with?

Of course you do. Unless you are a stronger personality than most marketers, you go with the numbers. The result is advertising that’s neatly positioned at all the relevant points on the customer journey (and other bits of media jargon) but which is zzzzzzzzzzz.

I was the creative director at O&M when Martin Sorrell ripped out the media departments of O&M and JWT to create Mindshare.

What happened was the agency lost its balance, both in terms of its culture as well as its client offering.

It became smaller both metaphorically and literally.

Some of the people who went off to the new outfit – Mandy Pooler, Nick Emery – were a huge loss to the wider business of advertising, shunted into a niche from which they soon wanted to escape.

The only way out, though, is into territory once occupied solely by creative agencies.

The sunlit uplands, where strategy and creative execution are to be found and fat fees roam.

So that’s what all the media agencies have been doing.

Competing with their creative siblings inside the big networks.

Martin Sorrell laughs and calls it “kiss and punch”.

I call it a travesty.

The point being, the big media agencies may want to become creators. Indeed, they are already creators. It’s just they aren’t very good at it.

(At Cannes, only 26 per cent of Media Lions were won by media outfits.)

Either they should just go for it – and start hiring creative departments and we’ll all go back to the future in full-service shops again. Or they should stop being the silent assassins of our industry.

In the meantime, they talk about ‘ideas’ and ‘storytelling’, but, actually, they are killing creativity.