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What comes after the clients and the chocolate biscuits? Hollywood provides a clue.

What comes after the clients and the chocolate biscuits? Hollywood provides a clue

David MacGregor

[Advertising]

It is difficult to type with frozen fingers. I am huddled by a pathetically flickering brazier. The snow is swirling outside. I have run out of fuel. If I weren’t using a laptop computer I would want to burn the typed manuscript for warmth. Times are tough and getting tougher. The icy blasts of recession are with us.

This may come as no news to you. Perhaps you’ve been told you are redundant? Your plaintive cry, “But that never mattered before …”, has fallen on cloth ears. The agency’s finance director has begun dressing as Darth Vader and has set his sights on unnecessary expenditures. Chocolate biscuits are no longer served in client meetings. You remember clients. You may still have some—though you may be wondering, is a client who refuses to spend money still a client?

You may be wondering why your great idea, a pastiche of Starsky & Hutch meets Life on Mars in a Michel Gondry style, has fallen on deaf ears and meets blank looks. Your piece de resistance—the schtick features a crucial cameo appearance by Jimmy the Dwarf from The Jono Show—is kicked for touch. “Have these Philistines no understanding of what people want? If we’re going to interrupt your favourite show … we have to entertain them.” Sensing that the tide has turned irrevocably, you suggest “May Madness! Everything Must Go Sale, Sale, Sale!” might be ever so subtly improved if Jimmy the Dwarf was the presenter.

In the great state of California unemployment hit a staggering 11.2 percent in March—the highest in its history—but the entertainment industries haven’t been affected. Let’s assume that’s a bellwether of sorts

There are upsides. Remember all those meetings you’ve attended, wondering what exactly a Group Account Director does, while the media director drones endlessly about TARPS? Now your client has read your mind. She has woken up to the fact that the agency entourage that shows up to meetings is only slightly smaller that the road crew for a Rolling Stones tour. She can barely concentrate on the pre-production meeting because she’s mentally calculating the hourly rates of the all present and wrestling with the relevance of the Raleigh Chopper the commercial’s director is advocating with disdainful irony.

You may be sick and tired of meetings where the word ‘value’ has nothing to do with Shock (as in Shock Value) or Awe (as in Entertainment Value) but value for money. These are indeed troubling times. Who’d have thought it would come to this?

You could take comfort from the fact that in the great state of California (which, according to the CIA Factbook, if it were a country would displace Italy as the tenth largest in the world) unemployment hit a staggering 11.2 percent in March—the highest in its history—but the entertainment industries haven’t been affected. Let’s assume that’s a bellwether of sorts.

If you’ve been using marketers’ budgets to create a short movie portfolio (with the help of the best directorial, photographic and post production talent other people’s money can buy), maybe you haven’t wasted the past few years after all. Get that script out from the bottom drawer, people … and action!

Content is a way forward. Media needs content. Traditional media might well be in a dip but private media channels are exploding. Creating content in any genre is possible. My recommendation is that you start exploring and experimenting now. Think about branded content—ideas for marketers that integrate product use or deliver useful information to a consumer that is relevant and interesting. If it’s entertaining, that’s okay too.

Become a channel yourself. Pick a niche and peg out your territory. Aucklander and former adman Jonathan Gunson has successfully created a regular video show to help people who want to increase traffic to their websites. He’s building a worldwide audience at www.trafficcafe.tv. You might think it’s a little hokey, but he’s doing it. Jayson Bryant at The Wine Vault, a small, specialty retailer, is creating a regular tasting show for his website.

Don’t try to go it alone. Make connections with others—either to create or distribute your messages. In my first column in issue one of Idealog I talked about the importance of collaboration. It’s relatively simple to build an international network to help you get your ideas out there into the world: blogs, Twitter, Facebook and websites can connect easily and effectively. Is there any reason you can’t be a multimedia star? Publishing on demand, selling products through sites like Ponoko.com and Etsy.com, means there’s no real barrier to developing a productive, creative business. Why not create ads and shows for clients to distribute themselves?

The ad agency world has gone through a reformation in recent years, though maybe not fast enough. The trick that creative practitioners need to master is how to take charge of what happens next. Creating value with fewer middlemen, having direct contact with the audience/customer, exploring fast, imperfect solutions, keeping overheads to a bare minimum. It’s the same advice I’d offer big agency owners.

Don’t get me wrong; I don’t think the sky is falling. Tough times, yes. But there will be winners ready to catch the next wave. If nothing else it might be a good time to jettison some dead wood and antiquated ideas that have persisted from the days of the Mad Men. Here’s to la vie boheme.