What’s wrong with advertising?

It’s too by the book.

I mean if what I witnessed last week is any indication, the ad industry is more reluctant than ever to adapt to the new communications landscape. Maybe more so than PR, which has plenty of issues of its own.

I was slightly out of my element to be seated around a board table with senior ad creatives and suits – the leaders! – talking about one of Canada's successful college ad programs and how it could reposition itself and update its offerings. Aside from me, there was only one other PR person in the room. 

To say I was taken aback by what I heard is an understatement. I could feel my anger and frustration welling up. Were those strains of Fiddler on the Roof’s Tradition playing in the background? I probably put on even a bigger event smile to hide my reaction and maintain a semblance of an open mind.

The ad industry, as represented in the gathering, appeared to be inflexible and completely wedded to the past. At first I thought they’re watching too much Mad Men, but then I realized if they are, they’re not taking the essence of the stories to heart.

Here are three examples:

  1. You either know about the business side or how to make ads. As in the past, ne’er the twain shall meet. The ad folks talked about maintaining the gap between creative people and those responsible for account management and were 100% convinced you couldn’t do both. That sounds old fashioned to me – and counter to the PR industry, where we combine the roles. Doesn't it seem obvious that everyone woking in business should understand how a business works regardless of whether they make or sell ads? As Gini Dietrich might say, it’s time to break down the silos.
  2. You're creative…there's no need to know or understand HTML. I’m a big proponent of learning. And while you don’t have to be a developer, it boggles my mind to think an ad person, who deals with digital programs for clients, wouldn't go out of their way to at least try to understand the basics of coding. And frankly that goes for blogs, social networks, relationships and SEO too. Time to open your minds.  Remember it’s the ad industry that created banner ads – that speaks volumes, doesn’t it.
  3. There's only one way to evalutate talent and that's by looking at a person's book. For those of you who don’t know, the book is a code word for portfolio and while it’s evolved from 3D examples to an emailable PDF, the ad folks in the room talked about how it MUST have certain things including a three ad print campaign. They didn’t grasp that young people aren’t consuming traditional media the same way as other generations and may even find print ads, in their current form, irrelevant. Or at least something that could be improved.  When I asked why they didn’t consider a new approach to measuring talent, I was pummeled for even suggesting it. ‘We need the book’, they said. I think they need to open a new page.  

It was disheartening to see the slavish devotion to the past – especially since, as we all know, we’re living through a time of rule-breaking changes.

I certainly know a number of advertising innovators, pushing the boundaries, but what I saw tells me that as in PR, too many ad people are still hanging on a bit too tightly to what they've got.

Coming away from the session made me more convinced than ever that there’s room for a new type of agency that integrates earned, paid and owned media, tells stories and has fewer preconceived notions of doing everything by the book.

I’m interested to hear your take.

About Martin Waxman


Martin Waxman is a digital, social media and communications strategist, content marketer, social media trainer and instructor and co-founder of three PR agencies. He blogs at myPALETTE and hosts the Inside PR podcast.

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