Friday, 8 January 2010


Beware The Bottom-Feeders: When Procurement Turns Thinkers Into Executors 

Article by Alan Schulman, Friday, January 8, 2010

It doesn't take many ‘creatives’ (in “Ad” speak) to argue the short sightedness of allowing clients to drive down, or discount, the value of developing bigger (and longer-term) brand-building ideas.  After all, what are ideas, if not the cultural currency that differentiates one brand from another?   Ultimately, we agency folk are not only "agents" - but we are all fundamentally in the IDEA business.

What's astounding is the value (or lack thereof) that clients seemingly place on the power and cultural currency of BIG Ideas.  Witness 2009.  Having already rolled over the media services operations and account service functions being provided by their agency partners -- asking for everything from money back, to blended hourly rates that can barely afford a $50K FTE -- the question is, do they really think they've won?  What did they win?  Another half of an FTE?   Or a mid-level media supervisor holding down the responsibilities of an account director?  It makes this creative wonder if they know the difference between thinkers and executors?

But if it's simply executors Clients want, it's executors they shall have (witness any Top Five Global Ad Agency).  A few smart CMO’s have finally realized that the strategic and creative business is no place for Six Sigma.  Rather, it's where ideas are born, nurtured, shepherded and communicated until the customer starts talking -- and buying. Sadly however, as long as short-term, top-line revenue growth continues to drive stock prices up, public agencies will be forced to negotiate the value of their people and their ideas down to ensure the tonnage of dollars continues to flow.

As an industry, who among us will be brave enough to stand up and clarify that we are ultimately in the IDEA business -- not just the billings tonnage and stock price business?  In this climate of procurement driving poetry in motion, it looks bleak for ultimate value of great ideas. 

Perhaps we put ourselves here.  Buy/sell technology platforms have crossed the chasm from Silicon Valley, purportedly making media planning and buying more efficient, agencies and digital media networks have become seduced by scale rather than by skill.  The embracing of these platforms of scale under the guise of efficiency ultimately leads to only one place -- the commoditization of media inventory and the devaluation of strategic thinking and ideas.  Happy 2010. 

Article by Alan Schulman, Friday, January 8, 2010
Alan Schulman is Chairman and Chief Creative Officer of U. DIG > The Digital Innovations Group. He is a member of the Creative Versioning Professionals and his creative agency develops new ad units for new and emerging media platforms. 
Contact him here.