I am proud to be the CEO of a global advertising agency. With Advertising Week in full bloom, that might not seem to be a particularly provocative or even enlightening statement.
But in the past few years, lots of bright folk running equally brilliant agencies have displayed a certain allergic reaction to calling themselves ad agencies. Too 20th century, too analog, too anachronistic?
But agencies that dance away from the core of the advertising business are spending too much time looking in the mirror instead of listening to their clients, and too much energy focusing on their revenue streams rather than on driving results for clients. Our business is always its least successful when we make it about ourselves.
So, let me say it loud and clear. I love being the CEO of an advertising agency. I am unabashedly proud. I think "traditional vs. digital" is another one of those circular and meaningless discussions. Agencies have always been part of the media revolution, both creatively and by helping carve out profitable business models.
Our industry helped create the phenomenon of radio in the 1920s. We made print viable through advertising. (Y&R Advertising, in fact, helped make possible a national magazine called "Time.") Advertising agencies helped create the broadcast model of TV and were the largest creators of content long before we felt the need to elevate our status by calling ourselves content creators. And when TV began to relegate radio dramas and comedies to a thing of the past, our industry helped redefine radio with music and talk formats.
This is all part of our industry's DNA -- staying at the forefront of media and technology to help us create powerful stories that connect our clients' brands to their customers in order to motivate sales and create brand loyalty.
The purveyors of great digital understand this. Facebook. Google. Twitter. They all have departments called -- you guessed it -- advertising. And it's not because they lack inspiration. And it's certainly not because they are data deprived. They get that advertising is the underpinning that advances their model, unleashes their creativity, helps them be profitable.
The writer James Gleick, who is so supremely articulate about our data-driven world (see his new book, "The Information: A History/A Theory/A Flood") recently said: "... We are now like gods in our ability to search for and find information. But where we remain all too mortal is in our ability to process it, to make sense of it, and to filter and find the information we want. That's where the real challenges lie... As we now flood the world with information, it becomes harder and harder to find meaning."
Creating meaning out of information has always been the core of what we do. Creating and telling stories. Creating and nurturing connections. We've got to be careful not to be so in love with the tools today (and they are eminently attractive - I get that) that we forget they are really the means not the end. There's lots of that going around, which I call GMOOT - it's the Give Me One of Those syndrome. The shiny new thing-du-jour that agencies -- and their eager clients -- mistake for meaning. There is, of course, amazing technology that is being invented even as I write this. But let's use the technology to help us drive the brand story -- it isn't the story itself. In fact, here's what ClickZ has to say about what we do: "Good creative is about storytelling, evoking emotion, creating need, desire, appreciation and loyalty."
Don't get me wrong. This isn't an anti-digital diatribe. On the contrary, it has long been my mantra that everything is digital... even print is digital. And we are swimming in data that consumers share with us. But what are we giving back? What's the value exchange? What better thing are we offering in return? I would argue that brand is still a powerful, emotional connect. And that no matter the bells or whistles, no matter the community we provide, our customers still expect their brands to have meaning. Why, they're even willing to help us create it.
Which we do by creating and telling stories. Creating and nurturing connections. The very business of advertising. Which is why we are, always have been, and always will be an advertising agency. And proud to say it.
You can read more from David on his blog, "The Weekly Ramble."