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Bob Wootton 

Ritson, Warren, Sorrell & the return to work

Ritson, Warren, Sorrell & the return to work

Bob Wootton discusses effective creativity, the return to office-based work and some of the movers and shakers ruffling industry feathers

You might not have caught Professor Mark Ritson’s closing address to the World Federation of Advertisers’ recent virtual conference.

I suggest a look below.

The excellent main riffs are characteristic Ritson (pictured), combining academic rigour and his trademark colourful language to remind his senior, global advertiser audience that effectiveness is in decline and to question their channel choices - particularly their continued determination to overspend with the online platforms.

In the context of (yet another) diversity-themed event, he also urges his audience to reposition their purpose-based, woke focus as a means to business success, rather than the end in itself it has clearly become for many.

This is what we used to see at the better conferences – thoughtful but controversial. 

Almost extinct now, more’s the pity.

Like most recent online events, much was pre-recorded to avoid tech fails, so earlier iterations were likely even punchier.

I gather it didn’t go down too well in certain circles, some senior delegates being rather outraged by these challenges. Perhaps worried about their share price?

I offer little sympathy. If you’re (highly) paid to do a big job for a company you should be called out when you don’t. 

Chapeau to WFA for running the session although Prof. Ritson may not be invited back any time soon.

Effective creativity

Ritson also spoke to another theme, arguing that advertising ideas should – and used to -  be sustainable. As in having longevity. What was once called 'campaignability'. Or a ‘big idea’.

This chimes with current debate around the meaning and importance of effective creativity, with many advertisers calling for it in the face of declining effectiveness.

Yet its meaning has been corroded to the point where it’s not what they think it is anymore.

Apart from Gary V, all the great thinkers on this across the years concur on most of the fundamentals :

- If you don’t get noticed, it doesn’t matter what you say and how you say it

- If you don’t somehow engage a person’s attention, you can’t press your claim or offer

Perhaps derailed by notions like agility, always-on, activation, quarterly reporting… the absolute sense of creativity embodying lateral and unexpected insights has yielded to the rational and transactional.

Everybody talks about storytelling but nobody’s actually telling stories.

What might have made a difference probably now won’t.

Long-time agency man, Richard Warren, now director of marketing at Lloyds Bank, found himself in tepid water after supposedly saying that “…agencies can’t write anymore”.

Perhaps quoted out of context like all the finest theatre reviews but strong stuff nevertheless, it elicited some pushback. Not least “does anybody read anymore?’.

But how right he is. Misquoted or not, his words could be applied right across the craft of commercial art that is advertising.

The number of established and emerging independent agencies harbouring these views and values is reassuring. But they need a sufficiently-aware client base out there to buy into it too. Right now, that’s a big issue.

Changing times

Indeed, much current commentary centres on the importance of advertisers taking the initiative on key issues.

Hitherto they haven’t been prepared to so their inconvenient grumbles have been easily kicked into the long grass.

Things are changing. ISBA is leading a milestone cross-media audience measurement initiative and also commissioned the report by the respected Enders Analysis on the way TV airtime is traded.

ISBA has even drawn praise from the Adcontrarian, who is vituperative about the US advertiser association’s recent impotence despite its important transparency report of 2016. 

Fellow Mediatel News columnist, Nick Manning was recently announced as advisor to the ANA’s latest investigations into the programmatic space.  He knows where the bodies are buried, so perhaps some hope yet.

Regulars will know my position on Contract Rights Renewal, the price control imposed on ITV plc and its formation to protect advertisers from monopoly leverage.

If ever there was a catalyst for its overturn and for caution in embracing regulatory intervention in markets, this is it.

I’m not sure I fully understand the proposal to separate airtime into premium and standard, audience and context, with the latter dealt programmatically yet but it’s a step into the present and the right direction that merits attention.

The deep innate conservatism of the broadcasters’ and agencies’ traders will be a hindering force, but hopefully lots more on this anon.

The return to work

As our society reopens, so (slowly) workplaces. Companies are setting out their stalls, from resumed presenteeism (Goldman Sachs) to ultra-flexible (Twitter).

Younger and more extrovert colleagues are keen to return and many are. Less so the introverts – data analysts, for example - many of whom have had good lockdowns because they haven’t had to conform to extrovert workplace rituals.

We must separate what managements (are expected to) say from what they actually feel. 

As I’ve said before, many (most) have positively enjoyed the absence of constant travel, instead regaining their evenings, weekends and family time in their nice (second) homes.

Stress and isolation are concerns. The legal profession reports an escalation in hours worked, particularly amongst younger staff, to even scarier levels. 

Perhaps a proxy for our industry?

While companies have been hungrily eyeballing cost savings, the consensus is that time spent in proximity is indeed a fundamental contributor to the quality of many of our outputs.

I foresee a lot of three- and two-day fortnightly working patterns emerging, targeting a constant 50% occupancy with attendant rent savings and occasional major all-staffers hosted externally. 

We must watch closely for the true impacts on cultures and esprits de corps.

Sorrell soap

Thanks to Sir Martin Sorrell (SMS), aka June 21 (work it out) for some much-needed entertainment.

Not only is his new company outperforming the megalith he built and was removed from, but he retains a big stake and is now in dispute over his continuing earn-out.

Once serially the highest-paid FTSE CEO, WPP’s performance has meant that the later tranches of his long-term executive incentive scheme are yielding fractions of previous hauls.

How small remains a bone of contention and SMS doesn’t give up without a fight.  Especially when it might help burnish his credentials whilst tarnishing his alma mater’s.

Now his old WPP colleague, Nick Emery - also unceremoniously defenestrated - has resurfaced in another fast-growing new-model business, You & Mr Jones, to create a new proposition around in-housing, which appears to echo the Oliver agency model but for media.

I wouldn’t bet against these guys. Emery is clear he is looking forwards and not seeking vengeance. I believe him. Both he and SMS will get it anyway as their new entrants worry the incumbents.

Final word.  Anybody notice any appreciable user difference since the Apple cookie block? 

Just asking for a friend…

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