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A BETTER IDEA — Some suggestions for an industry that spends too much time talking about its problems and not enough time coming up with solutions By AUSTIN McGHI

You’ve probably heard the story. Drop a frog in b

That the advertising agency business resembles an overheated frog is no surprise to anyone. Unfortunately, we in the industry seem to spend too much time analyzing the water temperature and not nearly enough time coming up with ways to get out of the pot. Here are five ideas to consider.
1. Let’s accept the notion that we are – to use a term better suited for the Industrial Revolution than the Information Age – idea factories. Like any manufacturer, we should be paid commensurate with the value we put into our product. How? By getting off commission and onto some form of fee-plus-incentive system focused on marketing counsel rather than media expenditure.
Financially, our industry has been based on a fundamental conflict of interest that has undermined agency-client relationships. Most recently, it was a prime motivator in our move toward ‘integration.’ We saw marketing dollars moving through other channels and, because our compensation was based on how much was spent rather than the quality of our counsel, we felt compelled to chase it.
So we integrated. Unfortunately, this had everything to do with greed and nothing to do with the best interests of the client. It’s not integrated agencies that clients need, it’s integrated thinking.
2. The idea factory requires internal product quality standards that are absolute. We cannot deliver a variable level of product quality depending on client profitability.
If you’re committed to a high-quality product, you can’t possibly make a cheaper product in the same facility. This is true whether you’re making breakfast cereal or creating advertising. Sooner or later, the range between the two levels will narrow, to the detriment of the high-quality product.
Lack of an absolute standard means you don’t stand for anything. It also means the client is in charge of quality control, which leads to credibility problems with all clients.
3. We must intellectually integrate at the senior account service level. As an industry, we need to create active strategic alliances with experts in related communications fields.
What if McCann-Erickson had gone to CAA before CAA went to Coke? We don’t need to execute everything ourselves, but we do need to assume ownership of the ‘thinking’ component.
This means we need to find a way to apply more money at the senior account management level. Being a senior account manager should be seen as a well-paid end unto itself, not just as a route to general management. Why not pay the best senior account managers at least as well as the general manager? Accordingly, those in general management need to streamline administration, leave it to the experts and stick with the client.
4) We must become more effective brand stewards. Although the environment is tougher, the importance and value of a strong brand have never been higher.
Brand strength has always represented a significant income and profit difference to the manufacturer. Increasingly, as marginal products are squeezed out, brand strength will mean the difference between high income and no income.
What practical steps can be taken to regain this position? An obvious starting point is to make brand equity more important, and real, to our clients. Important things tend to be measured. Most major advertisers track sales, volume, profit, brand and advertising awareness, retail purchases, warehouse movement, usage and consumer attitudes. They don’t track brand equity. We need to change this.
The sad fact is that marketer brand loyalty has declined at a far more precipitous rate than consumer brand loyalty. Agencies must treat ownership of brand equity as a critical measure of their utility, thereby assuming a more institutional role as a brand steward.
5. We cannot forget what we do best – well-directed, distinctive advertising. Advertising that assumes its target audience is, at best, uninterested. Advertising that assumes a linear solution is far less likely to be noticed than is a truly creative solution.
Rather than agonizing over the increasingly cluttered communication environment, we should embrace an environment which rewards the creative solution and punishes the linear answer by robbing it of its only ally – old-fashioned media weight.
If we’re serious about finding a way out of the hot water, these suggestions are just a start. Obviously, more ideas will be required. But, hey, ‘Ideas ‘R’ Us.’
Austin McGhie is president/ceo of Seattle-based Cole & Weber.
Copyright Adweek L.P. (1993)