Looking in the rear view mirror: Advice I would give to my 21-year-old self
You’ve heard people say, ‘If I knew then what I know now, I would’ve avoided a lot of mistakes.’ Looking in the rear view mirror, we’d all be more successful, but the notion of starting my career with a crystal ball fascinates me.
As a quick background, I am an ad brat; my father started our agency in 1964. He wouldn’t allow me to join the family business right out of college, so I worked in NYC, mostly at Ogilvy & Mather, writing copy for global brands. I certainly learned a lot from my dad, and best practices at Ogilvy, though neither fully prepared me for the road ahead in our industry. For decades, the ad/PR industry didn’t change very much; then the internet came along, and holy s#*t did things change!
Actually, I love change. I also like to be prepared, so this is advice I would’ve given myself when I started my career:
Be resilient—the industry you learned about at the dinner table is going to be turned on its head. Get ready for greater speeds, transparency, and pivoting from one direction to another. Computers will give you the ability to communicate faster, revise more often, and turn-around thinking sooner, and pivot on strategy. And get used to the word ‘digital.’ It’s going to shift how agencies communicate with audiences. Oh, and by 2017, you’ll be sick and tired of the word ‘pivot.’
Embrace measurement sooner—the days of coming up with great ideas and launching them into the marketplace and hoping they’ll ring up big sales for clients will be over. Digital tools will give agencies the power to measure what they execute, and transparency regarding results will be how business is done. Start learning about analytics now.
Learn the basics of direct marketing— digital will be the new direct marketing. School yourself on the DM principals now, so that you can hit the ground running when digital goes wide. Strategies and tactics like: vertical targeting; personalization; message testing; and generating immediate responses will be key to getting a jump on email and web marketing.
Put yourself out of business—the agency business is in for a rude awakening. In the next two decades, print and radio ads will fade as dominant mediums and agencies will have to adapt their creative skills to put designs and concepts on computer screens. So close your eyes and imagine what running an agency will be like when ad mediums as you know it are no longer valued. If you do nothing, your agency will be a dinosaur pretty quickly. But if you embrace what’s coming, you’ll be recognized as a leader in the new era of digital marketing, and your agency will thrive.
Be social—this isn’t what you think. There will be ways for people to connect with other people via technology and share stories, pictures of their pets, meals, and sunsets. And, oh yeah, this thing will become huge with billions of people following each other, and serve as a new way to advertise, influence public opinion, build reputations, and sell products. Its content will be short form, so start learning how to use an economy of words and bringing ideas to life with video. Don’t brush social media off as a passing trend. It’s for real.
Be nicer to nerds—cozy up to the kids in high school who are really good at math and science. They will create technology companies that will transform how the world communicates, and does business. Art directors will create on computer screens. Copywriters will learn to tell stories in six seconds. PR account managers will release news to the world with the click of a button and be able to track reaction to it with advanced software tools. Average people of all ages will attract global audiences via computers with homemade shows, and advertisers will pay these ‘average’ people millions of dollars to mention their products in their shows. Parting advice: buy stock in a small nerd-owned company called ‘Google.’ I know it’s a weird name, but trust me on this one…
While everyone in the advertising/PR industry would be wildly successful if we had the ability to go back in time with information about the future, there is something special about learning from experience. That’s what this journey is all about, right? But I still reserve the right to rant at my sports teams for mistakes they make, because I simply enjoy being an armchair QB.
Marc Brownstein is president and chief executive of Brownstein Group. He tweets @MarcBrownstein