Admittedly, even I wasn't sure what was out there, and what all I would have to learn (and unlearn), after being in the business of communication for 16 years!
The only thing I knew for sure, is that there is life beyond the 30 second TVC, the 100cc print ad, and the use of cricket instead of a real strategy.
I also knew that 'service industry' doesn't mean providing lip service, but means providing professionally thought out solutions the brand needs, not necessarily what the client personally wants.
In the 16 months since, I have quite literally gone back to school. Learning all about new consumers, new media, and new and exciting ways of communication.
I believe I have learn't a lot more 'new things' in the last 16 months, than I perhaps did in 16 years inside some of the largest agencies in the country!
Meanwhile my contemporaries in advertising, can at best describe my work as "doing his own thing" still not having a clue as to what I'm talking about.
- When I say I work with new media - the reaction is "oh, you make websites"
- When I say I am an independent consultant - they say "oh, you do freelance advertising"
- When I say I give clients a 360 degree perspective, it's "oh, you do below the line, DM and stuff??"
Well, I am "doing my own thing", which is actually a combination of all of the above, plus and a lot more! Minus of course, the late nights, messy meal times, working weekends, and minus pandering to the egos of amateur 'professionals' and clueless 'know-it-alls'.
The last two categories above of course, make up the bulk of the business today, and unfortunately drive the perception of advertising.
So what drove me up the wall? What drives senior people like me and even much higher ups to either put up their hands and walk away in disgust, or set out on their own to try and do things the way they believe it should be done?
I believe, there are four things the advertising industry in general needs to address/lacks:
While these elements exist in clusters - among certain individuals, among certain agencies, and among certain clients - the numbers aren't enough, and don't have the critical mass to make a difference. At least, not yet.
First and foremost, in order for our business to "grow up" and change the perceptions people have of us as 'overpaid, overhyped yarn spinners' we need to change our own perceptions about ourselves.
Yes, we have to stop reducing our importance by calling ourselves 'advertising professionals'. Or just 'PR professionals'. Because then we will be just that - a cog in the wheel of the overall marketing and communication machinery.
We need to see ourselves, and project ourselves, as overall strategic and communication professionals. And provide overall comprehensive solutions, which are unbiased by the kind of talent we have on our payroll, even if it means we have to find a third party to implement a program. (It's better to earn a referral fee, than earn a fee from something that isn't required in the first place).
I do believe advertising and public relations have to work together, not independently. It's apalling for me to think that most of the time the ad agency doesn't know what the PR firm is doing and vice versa for most shared clients. And you can forget them working together on a campaign!
The point is, when we can advise and recommend solutions to our clients, irrespective of whether we ourselves implement them or not, respect and trust for us will naturally grow.
In order for the business to grow intellectually and effectively, rather than just financially, we definately need to broaden our perspectives.
We need to know more about the new age consumers, around new age media, and about the constantly emerging technologies that constantly change the aspirations, habits, and goal posts of both consumers and their media.
We need to have a perspective on these things today, as well as how it will and can evolve as soon as 3 months down the line, as well as a whole 2 years on.
Traditional SEC categorisation, TRP and Reach to my mind are just lame crutches of the intellectually challenged. And ass-covering excuses for mediocre performance.
We need to wake up to hits, eyeballs, word of mouth, peer to peer influencers, user generated media, and motivating factors beyond food, clothing and shelter.
We need to recognise that the internet, radio and peer to peer media are not "innovations" but a way of life today, and should be a part of every good communication program!
It's amazing how unplanned our business it. Right from work flow within the office, to programs executed across audiences. Not surprisingly, we tend to be ad hoc and project demanded, rather than productivity driven.
With the right perspectives and perceptions (insights) we need to balance out current sales needs versus constant brand needs.
We need to plan, because quite simply as a studio manager used to tell us - if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.
This point is no rocket science, simply a reminder service :)
This is usually the bane of every creative person, and account executive, and client. This is a "creative" business, isn't it? How can innovation be processed??
And how can we follow process when everything is needed yesterday?? Right?
Wrong! Because creativity and innovation are not something that will come fall in your lap. They are things that have to be pursued, nurtured and polished.
Creativity and Innovation are a science as well as an art.
And since there is no formal training, or text books for us in the business, each one of us comes with our own brand of thinking and way of working. Not surprisingly, we have the maximum issues around subjectivity, we keep the most bizarre working hours, and deadlines are like traffic lights on New Delhi roads - meant to be ignored.
Processes can help bring some order to our disorder, action instead of anarchy, and satisfaction of results instead of surrender to rubbish.
Process makes life easier - for those who know their jobs, and especially for those who don't. Don't fight process, harness it.
Processes also weed out the weeds in our fields of talent. A VP I once worked it, was a great proponent of 'chaos theory'. Only this was his cover for not knowing his job, not doing any work, and his inability to define roles and responsibilities. Chaos helped him pit people against people, and hence keep anyone from noticing that he was all crap!
So beware of those who fight process!
TO SUM UP:
If we as an industry don't want to be seen as 'narrow minded' and with "keyhole vision", we need to unlock our minds and open our doors to change.
We need to get out of our independent silos of advertising and public relations and discover how to blend the power of the two - where paid communication and unpaid-for hype work together.
We need to constantly and consistently find whatever it takes to give our clients greater impact. In whichever medium we think relevant. Targetting whoever we think is important, including those within client's organisations!
We need to aspire to a stage where we're not depreciated as a commoditised service provider, but instead appreciated as a specialist solutions partners.
Is that so hard to see?