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The Craft Of Advertising, Lou Reed And That Damn Gallup Poll

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With the 10th anniversary of Advertising Week underway, I can't help but recall Lou Reed's comment on the Cannes stage earlier this year. He looked at the packed house of advertising industry people and said, "I always thought of this as the enemy camp...but things change."

We've come a long way, baby. And yet, we've still got a ways to go.

Every year since 1976, Gallup has conducted a poll that asks the general public to share their views on the honesty and ethical standards of people in various industries. Over the course of those 37 years, advertising professionals have rated on average in the bottom three, with the dubious honor of beating out only members of Congress and car salespeople. Ouch.

In some ways, it's an understandable perception. It's our job to persuade. We are not journalists, sworn to protect and uphold objective truth (though increasingly more of us have come from that world). And we are not documentarians who seek to show but not tell, adding as little opinion as possible to the mix (though we have quite a few among us from that world, too). We are, instead, masters at the art of messaging -- and in admitting that fact, we've already forgone the benefit of the doubt.

It's time we demand a little more respect for our craft.

Almost anyone in this business will happily tell you that the whole game has been turned upside down in recent years. Holding-company consolidation, 120-day payment terms, fractional reviews, and continuous technological disruption have made it harder than ever to stay competitive and profitable as an ad agency today. But perhaps the most important shift of all is the great democratization of media and the need it has created for transparency and authenticity in all aspects of marketing.

Today, advertising agencies must be stewards of what's real and interesting to consumers as much as we are stewards of brand messaging. It's our job to make useful and relevant things that people choose to seek out -- to partner with brands in order to create something of real value to consumers. We now rely increasingly on customers themselves to amplify and distribute our message, which means we can no longer get away with being disingenuous -- even if our clients ask us to.

Advertising professionals are becoming brokers of a sort of great compromise between brands and consumers, where both sides gain something of value. It's a different role, and one that requires clients to treat agencies as strategic partners, rather than culpable vendors. It's a role that requires agencies to earn the trust of consumers by consistently creating executions that make their lives better (or at least more interesting) in some small way. And perhaps most importantly, it's a role in which honesty and ethical standards are prerequisites for success.

In new-business development, if at any time a potential client develops the agency-as-a-vendor mentality, I politely decline to participate and wish them well in their search regardless of the brand, category, or product.

What we do is not easy. The agency-client relationship (like any healthy relationship) should be based on trust and mutual respect. When it becomes clear that such a partnership isn't in the cards, it's perfectly OK to say no. Though the stakes are high, we save ourselves a lot of time and heartache by walking away when the respect for our craft is not there.

There will always be misleading messages and bad products in the world. But I can say that most of us have a profound and legitimate desire to make the world funnier, happier, more beautiful, and more useful through our work.

So this week, celebrate your industry, your talent, and your contributions. Celebrate the craft of advertising. And of course, have a great time. Because if there were a Gallup poll ranking industries who know how to have fun, we'd be in the top three.