Evacuation in the ad industry

When a storm is coming, you hunker down. When it’s a mega-storm, you leave. The able, smart, and (yes, the) scared evacuate to survive. There’s a business version too. When a company is in trouble, some folks hunker. When an industry is going to get clobbered, it’s a mass exodus. [cue iconic theme from the eponymous movie.]

Ad agency and publishing execs are leaving in droves. There’s a punch line in there somewhere. Droving in leaves…. But this ain’t a laughing matter. Pressure there must be barometric.

In one week just before Labor Day, the managing director of Weiden+Kennedy left for YouTube; and, CEO of DigitasLBI left to run marketing at Dunkin Donuts. In the past week, the editorial heads of Elle, Glamour, Time, and Vanity Fair all bailed. ONE WEEK.

One long-tenured person can leave any time. A couple can move from X to Y in the same industry. Even in the span of a few days. This many senior people leaving for different gigs signals a big storm is coming.

The senior people will tell us where we need to go. This business corollary explains.

In the 1960s, the best and brightest went to NASA. They had a lofty goal to put a man on the moon. In the 1970s, the erudite ran magazines to elevate our minds. The 1980s were about money. The best went to be “big swinging dicks” on Wall Street. The ‘90s was our dot com fad era. The new millennium took us west to Silicon Valley to invest in or start companies.

Now, leaders are moving to brand. More specifically, they want to build brands.

The best and brightest want to make an impact. They want to know they will have the money, resources and backing to do something grand. They want to be able to recruit great people to help them. Sluggish, slowing or declining disciplines don’t get any of those things.

Brands are hot right now. That may last longer than the moment. It may be a movement. Companies are embracing their inner brand. In the past few months, Uber, Ford, IBM, Brookstone and others have created a title of Chief Brand Officer. That’s going to attract some really good people.

Leaders don’t want to copy others. They want to create. Companies like Tesla are showing people you don’t have to spend gobs of money – or, indeed, any money on traditional advertising to build a car brand.

[link: https://www.linkedin.com/feed/update/urn:li:activity:6307595528108535808]

So, the ad folks are jumping to build brands. That tells us running a brand is better than running the agency tasked to help build one. Really, for the past 20 years, that wasn’t the case. The glam was at the agency.

Speaking of glam, the editors don’t know where to go.

Cindi Leive joined Glamour 16 years ago. That was before a magazine was a brand. She’s “comfortable” applying the term to media now. She told the NYT she’s not leaving to, “Spend more time with her family.”

That’s because editorial brands are on the decline. Once, powerful editors created and shaped public opinion. That’s being lost to media-tech platforms like Facebook.

So, does an editor go to a media-tech company? In late August, Facebook hired a NYT public editor to consult on transparency. That hardly shapes public opinion. More like tweaking the algorithms.

Content has yet to find its role in the new media order. It still influences. Just not on its terms. Democratic (read, social) content upended concentrated power. Not central. Think of it as grist for the mill. Search and social don’t work without a story from Elle, or Glamour, or Time, or Vanity Fair. They just haven’t figured out the model yet.

In any case, leaders are leaving in droves. There’s a punch line in there somewhere. Droving in leaves…. But this ain’t a laughing matter. It means those industries are troubled.

I’m in the marketing business. Brands are changing. Tech curation is overtaking content creation to influence. Agencies are losing their luster. There’s a storm coming. Where do I go?

If you want money, resources, prestige… it’s time to go build a brand.

 

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