2018: A good year to disrupt creative agencies

Two things happened recently, that have filled me with an existential dread as an advertising guy. I see a leak in the advertising industry’s ship. But instead of fixing it, the two indicators are telling me that advertising industry is busy being in denial – telling its employees, its clients that everything is fine, all we need is ‘purpose’, ‘creativity’…(and other buzz words). Semantics and bullshit have never rescued a sinking ship. The ship is totally rescue-able – it can even get better. But for that the emperors must acknowledge their true sartorial status.

The first indicator – Denial

So I got my grubby hands on a leaked document from one of the biggest agencies, charting out their plan to succeed in the new year. They identified just the right problems plaguing the industry. I was quite surprised to see the clarity in problem statement. Wow, hope!
And then the embarrassingly small minded solution to the big problem – a new fucking planning tool. Don’t get me wrong, i understand the power of a new perspective and this tool was a new interesting perspective of looking at modern business problems.  It quite adequately and elegantly captures the new realities of digital behaviours and mass media’s sharper relevance. BUT, it did not solve for the problem that was stated. If the brands are dead, how would a new perspective resuscitate them? If agency’s role in brand building is getting marginalised, how will a new planning tool help it in becoming more relevant? It is part of the solution, not the solution itself. Perhaps I misunderstood the scope of thinking – so I engaged a few people in conversation – perhaps there is a technological component to the tool that will help scale the operating procedures. After all, what good is a perspective if it remains a sales tool rather than a systematic way of thinking for the whole enterprise. That can happen by designing intelligent workflows, reimagining the roles and expectations. So I asked about these opportunities, but in return I received puzzling silence. Maybe they don’t get it? maybe I am not getting it? Either ways, glug glug glug.

The second indicator: Talent paucity and nothing constructive done about it

Successful Digital startups ‘pivot’ fast enough to stay relevant and thrive. Agencies very obviously can’t. They are good at applying cosmetic changes to their ‘purposes’ and ‘philosophies’ even as nothing operationally changes.

Successful companies are good at institutionalizing the feedback loop – the giving, taking and leveraging of constructive feedback. Company improves if employees improve. But agencies seldom have that culture – the evaluation ritual is perfunctory most of the times. All agencies depend on talent, though only a few invest in talent with time and thoughtful dialogue to help improve. Most agencies simply throw money to hire someone with new awards. They would much rather spend money than time and efforts. Effectively that has created a loop of talent turnover instead of learning and improvement.

Why 2018?

Because of the momentum – The media inventory being questioned, tracking  and target positioning ad ex as bad guys, stocks falling for holding companies and there being obvious ways in which an eagle eyed activist investor can take charge and improve long term growth prospects… Besides the vulture funds have too much cash and not enough places to put their monies in. Hedge funds, hedge this.

 

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Future of work

In response to a quora question – Future- How will the future of businesses and management look like and what changes should we expect?

1. Jobs for the Hyper-specialised

2. Second economy = computers transacting, interacting with other computers. the economy that is completely run by computers and algorithms, with little human support. Read this excellent article from HBR. I have taken inputs from it liberally to answer this question. Second economy will be worth $7.6 Trillion by 2025.

2. Future of robots replacing the workers – 100 million workers to be replaced in US alone by 2025, where the total workforce today is 146 million.

What this means is, the world as we know it will have to change – culturally, economically, physically for a peaceful future. The second economy is inevitable to a certain extent. It will replace jobs and no new jobs will be created. The prosperity created would be accessible to fewer and fewer people. Most of us will lose out. For a peaceful future, perhaps the governments would have to consider a golden mean of expanded social security + lifestyle allowances for the vast majority of people, and high taxes for the controllers of the vast systems.

3. Very high rates of change – As it is, we find it difficult to keep up with the changes affecting our work – may it be managers or workers – newer systems, newer softwares, newer ways of doing things. The rate of change will only accelerate here after.

This poses problems not only for the employed (increasing pressure to keep up. besides how many would be ready to compete in such a scenario?), but more so for the unemployed. There simply would not be enough jobs for unskilled/ semi-skilled people.

CEOs and CXOs shouldn’t be too smug. Even managerial positions would very likely be occupied by algorithms and servers. There will be an app for everything.

4. An Alternative to central bank money – Globalisation and intelligent algorithms = consolidated control in the hands of a few people. Which means concentration of money in a few pockets. Which means, for the vast majority, for their lives to have a meaning, their lives need to divorce from the current currency of money. P2P, bitcoin money could actually be the spiritually and technologically relevant form of money for future.

5. Media and communications will become the most important industries – To control perceptions, mass trends, mass opinions.

In the immediate future..

1. Importance of Social media influencers – directors of curiosities. Makers of sense of ever burgeoning mass of choices and information.

2. Loss of ‘security’: high churn and abrasive growth of ‘Human resources’. Social security weakened.

3. Predatory giant corporations:

a. Amazon started it. Their policy of pricing for a loss to edge out the competition has become the mantra for most big corporations. Before internet, this would have affected a retailer in a city. Now, such policy affects business across industries across the world. Amazon is making retailer businesses insecure across the world. They hope for retailers across the world to shutter down in a few years so that they could enjoy monopoly later on. Same strategy is used by Flipkart, OLA and so on.

Look at OLA for a second. It under prices local taxi drivers. OLA Taxi drivers get subsidy over the fare earned. This unfair advantage is pushing out local taxi businesses. In the short term, it is good for the consumers – with low fares, good cabs, good service… but in the long term, who is stop the monopoly of OLA to charge consumer thrice the amount of a normal fair? The payout to drivers too is not consistent. In a short period of a year, the payout policies and amounts have varied tremendously. (according to a few drivers I spoke to.. apparently it was a healthy sum a year ago, 6 months ago they stopped paying subsidy.. ad hoc opportunistic policies).

Essentially, we are encouraging assholes to run 21st century businesses.

b. Qualities such as kindness, consideration of human life outside of their job role are already absent from much of the work places. The newer breed of startups such asapple, Uber, Zomato have a terrible moral compass. They see nothing wrong in hiring and firing indiscriminately. They see nothing wrong in finding loopholes in policies and laws to earn more money at the cost to the wider world. They see nothing wrong in being ridiculously selfish. This has spawned a new culture of impunity and apathy in the search of rapid growth of riches.

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Originally published here