Agency Future

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Before moving to Copenhagen and finding work in the advertising industry as a copywriter, I was a journalist. I spent five years (2000-2005) at my local newspaper group, first as a reporter and later as a sub-editor. After a year or two it became clear to me the internet was wreaking havoc on the newspaper industry. Although just a lowly reporter on a weekly newspaper with a small circulation, I wasn’t blind to the quiet urgency exhibited by the suits in the organisation.

I discovered Jeff Jarvis’ Buzzmachine blog and I began to take an interest in the fundamental dynamics of the newspaper industry. It fascinated me that something as crude as Craigslist could decimate classified revenue, effectively pulling the rug from under the legs of the industry. I began to take a macro view.

I had always assumed that I’d be in newspapers for the rest of my career, that newspapers were too big to die, and that their function was too entrenched in society to be usurped. But when Newsquest (the publishers of my newspaper) began cutting costs and replacing more and more editorial space with ad space, I could see the writing on the wall.

Around 2003-4 I started to land freelance gigs at The Sun and The Daily Mail (beggars can’t be choosers). It was a fascinating time to be at both organisations. I was doing shifts for the Sun Online and I was there as it went from a half-arsed back-office operation to a much more prominent location on the newsfloor with greater headcount and a greater sense of purpose. At the Mail, I worked as a sub-editor on the paper itself and my time there coincided with the  decision to bring the online team onto the newsfloor (not sure where they’d been hiding before, it’s a big building).

Today, the Mail online is the UK’s no.1 news website (which doesn’t say much about the UK) and the Sun isn’t far behind. The success of both newspapers’ websites mirrors the wider trend towards increased online news consumption. Indeed, the circulations of the papers’ print editions are slipping, although not alarmingly so.

Then came a woman, and Denmark, and Copenhagen and no more journalism. But I’ve retained that macro fascination with the waxing and waning of industries. I studied History at university, which furnished me with a greater sense of perspective, and the realisation that everything is subject to the same constant forces of transmutation. The rise and fall of nations, empires and ideologies. I don’t believe in cyclical behaviour, only the unrelenting pressure of momentum.

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Now I find myself in advertising, another industry in the midst of terrific upheaval. The internet is again the catalyst, forcing lumbering and unwieldy ad networks to reinvent themselves, refresh business models and refocus their attention on how to stay relevant to their clients.

Working at an ad agency these past couple of years has been educational to say the least. I was a late arrival to the advertising world and maybe that gave me a fresher perspective. I wasn’t restricted by years of embedded working practice. The global downturn happened, and ad revenues started plummeting. Thousands of advertising professionals have lost their jobs. To quote Sir Martin Sorrell, CEO of WPP, his organisation currently can’t fire people fast enough to keep pace with the downturn in ads.

Finding myself in the midst of all this is exhilirating. Watching an entire industry reinvent itself – and actually playing a role in that process with my own agency – is massively fulfilling. Recently I won the Ole Stig Lommer travel grant, an annual scholarship awarded by the Danish Associoation of Advertising agencies to the person who submits the most interesting industry-related application. My application was Agency Future – a project leveraging social media to document the evolution of the advertising agency business model.

The money gives me the means to travel and engage with some of the people at the forefront of their industries, forging new opportunities, new business models, and new directions for creative agencies. The project is up and running now and while I won’t be travelling until the new year, I want people to start contributing to the site now. Specifically, I want readers to decide who I should be talking to. As I wrote in my application, the social media aspect is fundamental to the way the project shapes up:

Half documentary, half social media experiment, my ultimate ambition is to produce a snapshot of an industry in flux, while also showcasing the collaborative and transformative power of the tools that are powering such upheavals.

So if this long and rambling post has a purpose, it is to urge any of  you with any interest in the creative industries, advertising, marketing or even just business in the wider sense, to please take a look at the site and join in. Thanks.

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