November 10

Why I'm Quitting the Ad Game

Tom Martin - writer for Ad AgeOver the last few years I’ve become increasingly less interested in the core concepts of advertising. While so many in our business want to talk about concepts, I fancy ideas. When they speak of campaigns, I push for conversations. And when they boast of impressions, I can’t help but think about impacts. At first I thought I was having a mid-life crisis or something. But then I found out I wasn’t the only one having these thoughts. I wasn’t the only one wanting to have these conversations.

In the last year I’ve had the good fortune of sitting across the table with lots of clients who wanted to explore this idea of conversations and impacts. And they wanted to pay for ideas instead of concepts. Whether we were doing some kind of private workshop or chatting after a speaking gig, they all understood we are at critical juncture in the history of marketing. We are at a point where interruption must be replaced by invitation.

In short, they were as enchanted as I with this whole notion of having digital conversations with customers and prospects. They wanted to move beyond simply advertising to their customer, preferring instead to connect with them in a meaningful way. And they loved the idea of gaining permission to talk as often as they wanted with a customer without paying for the right to do so each time. Yes, they wanted to talk, but it wasn’t about advertising.

Likewise, I found a willing ear inside agencies near and far. I had the great fortune of addressing a group of agency owners at the spring Transworld Advertising Agency Network meeting in Cancun. We talked for hours about building passion-based communities and using social media to change brand perceptions. We discussed at length how far behind most in our industry are when it comes to monitoring, creating and engaging in digital conversations. More importantly we talked about why this was happening. And finally, we talked about the hurdles that make it difficult for agencies to embrace this new way of thinking and creating.

It was the combination of these two sets of conversations that has led to my decision to quit the ad game. Not because I believe that advertising is dead or that ad agencies are dying. On the contrary. I think this may be one of the most exciting and dynamic times in our industry’s history. Yes, I believe history will show that we live in a time no less important and game changing than the creative revolution of the ’60s.

However, for our industry to see around the corner and evolve to the next level (yes, I hate that cliche but I couldn’t think of a more suitable one) we must invest in knowledge. But that investment is the hurdle. In a world where margins are increasingly pressured, where competition is fierce and where “get me sales tomorrow” is the name of the game, it is very difficult for an agency to invest in dedicated or even quasi-dedicated resources to learn and then teach the concepts of this new digital world we live in today.

We look to industry trade groups like 4A’s, AMA, IABC, PRSA, etc. But are we finding the resources and answers? I’d argue no. So if we’re not able to invest in this knowledge ourselves and our trade groups aren’t getting the job done, then where does this leave us?

Well that is the question I asked myself. And the answer I came up with was . . . we’re on our own folks. We have to get smart and do so fast.

So to do my part, I’ve resigned my position at Zehnder. Instead of writing about how I’m helping to change one agency, I hope to write about how my new firm is helping to change lots of agencies and maybe a few clients too. I’ll try and give you the inside scoop and help you see you’re not alone. I’ll bring those thoughts here and share them with you in hopes of enticing debate, insight and most of all — change.

Originally published at Ad Age, on the Small Agency Diary.

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