My Hopeful New Year’s Resolution for Agencies

It’s less about engaging in price wars and more about standing together this year

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Over the past year and a half, during the tumult of Covid-19 and other upheavals, our industry has stepped up to bolster things that matter. Things like DEI, mental health, new ways of working … and more.

Meanwhile, we dug in and worked side by side with clients through paradigm shifts, service changes, supply-chain challenges and wild swings in demand. We gave our all to help our clients through hard times, demonstrating the full value of our strategic and creative power. In my career, I’ve never been prouder or more grateful to be part of an industry with so much to offer and to be a force for good.

But at the same time, I worry that agencies are engaging in practices that threaten to devalue what we do; or worse, discourage young people from wanting to pursue a career in advertising. From price wars to giving away ideas for free, bad-mouthing each other, and staying in toxic relationships … unhealthy behaviors jeopardize our collective future.

As we head into a new year, my hope is that our industry resolves to stand together to support the creativity that is our craft and the people who make it happen. As an industry, we must work together to protect against the commoditization of our product, and we must do so under immense pressure to do “more for less” on shrinking timelines.

There were too many times this past year when we saw agency peers competing and creating a race to the bottom with fees. Of course, our client’s desire to be mindful of costs is understandable. We all do the same as consumers—we weigh costs versus value. But what is our duty? Who sets the value of our creative product?

Agencies do.

If any one agency determines not to fight for the value of their work and their talent, it harms us all.

And our duty is to ensure that our product is fairly priced, so we can properly pay the people who develop the great creative—the very talent that has fought so hard and advocated to keep the meaningful work coming, even during the most challenging of circumstances. Quite simply, if any one agency determines not to fight for the value of their work and their talent, it harms us all.

Talent is leaving the industry in droves; competition from in-housing and even AI is heating up; CMO tenure is shortening. The best way to offset these pressures is to rally around what we do best: develop impactful ideas that help drive our clients’ businesses.

So with that in mind, here are my hopeful resolutions for the coming year:

Stop engaging in price wars. To the extent that we discount what we do for short-term gains, we devalue what we do in the long run. Advertising is not a commodity.

Stop giving away ideas for free. In what other service industry do practitioners give away free advice: Legal? Management consulting? Medicine? Ideas are what we have to offer. Clients/prospects should recognize and compensate, accordingly.

Stop disparaging one another. Heaping praise on a competitor’s brilliant work elevates the entire industry and reminds clients and prospects of the value of a great idea. Enough with the sniping.

And finally, know when to walk away. There are some relationships that are simply too toxic to endure. Don’t reward bad behavior. It’s amazing how many agencies eagerly line up to pitch for a piece of business from a client that is notorious for mistreating its partners. Stand up to bullies. Know when to say when.

Advertising is the business we love. It’s hard enough to consistently generate breakthrough ideas and solutions. Let’s not make it any harder on ourselves. Let’s stand together in 2022. Let’s take a stand for the work, the talent and the value of what we do.

That’s my New Year’s resolution. Who’s with me?