Ad Agencies are High School Cafeterias

I'm a native West Hollywoodian, so if there's one thing I'm familiar with, it's vanity.  Self-awareness is healthy, but vanity can lead to sin very easily.

When I left the music industry to pursue a career in Advertising, I instantly developed an interest in studying and learning the operations models of my Fortune 500 clients.  I was lucky to start off at innovative powerhouse The Barbarian Group, a shop led by sharp digital strategy that considered client business objectives before engineering creative solutions.  This allowed me to dig in to global client organizations through stakeholder interviews and region-specific research before pitching the sexy solves.

It was also instantly clear to me that 'Interactive' Communications (Marketing & Advertising) was about solving business problems rather than hypnotizing consumers into purchase like the attempts of the AT&T and Jeep commercials on which I was raised.  This built on my 'client side' experience that preceded my agency days -- where I learned that each piece of content developed, and each process tweak had to work within the fabric of an existing business need in order to be recognized, implemented, and ultimately become effective.

As an Ad World newcomer, I got a quick dose of the cool kid syndrome but didn't realize how deeply rooted the problem was until much later.  

If "Digital" had legs and arms...

If "Digital" had legs and arms...

Most agency creatives fancy themselves artists.  And that's fine.  Most of them are, in their spare time.  Heck, I'm an artist in my spare time, as well.  Over decades since Mad Men era, they've been the crowned creative leaders and awarded massive budgets to produce grand and stunning work.  However, all throughout that time, they were not being trained in the art of solving business problems.  And now, 15+ years after Digital entered the scene as a Godzilla, stomping out industries one at a time ("disruption" is too mild a term), they're still chasing Cannes Lions instead of working towards business solutions for their clients.

The problem is perpetuated by agency hierarchies.  The revered ECD title is one worth working 12-14 hr days for, for most Jr. Designers and Copywriters.  This pattern results in a popularity contest, or conquest. 

On the agency side, I stood at a crossroads.  I found myself part hypnotized -- wanting to be star of the SXSW panels and TED Talks -- and part turned off.  

Stage Right: 13 and dangerous. (Photo Credit: My Instagram #TBT from 48wks ago)

Stage Right: 13 and dangerous. (Photo Credit: My Instagram #TBT from 48wks ago)

Flashback:  I was a high school legend -- at Brentwood, tied with Harvard-Westlake for West LA's most academically rigorous college prep school.  On the 650 person campus, I was the only out gay kid,  wore badass TOOL/NIN shirts, told great jokes, and always had a lot of good weed on me.  Seriously.  It was a 4 year peak experience.  All the while, though, I had a queasy feeling when it came to the pervasive popularity seeking.  

In the high school cafeteria, we looked for social groups that would support our stage characters.  In the high school cafeteria, we valued generous accolades, positive mentions, party invites, and academic awards.  Needless to say, this atmosphere did not foster a collaborative working environment.  It was a painstaking competition all the way to the Yale admission letter.

How can an organization, built atop an identical value system to that of the high school cafeteria's, produce deeply effective business results?  They can't get past surface results, and they haven't really needed to until now.  

Consumers aren't buying it.  Literally.  Consumers don't value Cannes Lions, your score on the "Digital Innovation" top 50 of the day, nor do clients who fear their entire business may be obsolete by Q1 2017.  The game has changed.  Completely. 

Fortune 500s can't pull the plug on $10MM-$50MM Media budgets overnight.  It's a long process to reallocate funds to the right services and teams.  And, it's worth noting that these expensive partnerships have rendered integral foundation work like Brand Strategies, Platforms, Consumer Archetypes, and Product Campaigns. 

KIMBA believes in weening businesses off skin-deep solves and investing more against longterm solutions.  Over a period of time (usually between 6 and 12 months), we help our clients to business health by reallocating budget to assets and systems they can own, reuse, and build upon.  We help them recruit the right in-house digital talent so they aren't overly dependent on the next "hot service" pitched by their legacy agency partners.  We teach them new ways to measure success -- less through "quick wins" and more through operational efficiencies, new products & services, and steady and sustainable ROI growth.  

So, c'mon, my people!  Let's get it together and reprioritize our shenanigans.  It's basically 1954, we're in Tokyo,  and there's no time to be fixin' our hair in front of the god damn mirror!