Something’s not right

At first I was blind to it. A bittersweet presence in my daily life, an itch I could never quite scratch.

I put it down to the usual creative paradox where you’re never truly satisfied with something in the projects you work on. Was it the idea? The client? The team…? I could never really put my finger on it but something wasn’t right and so I kept looking for clarity.

Like all curious minds, mine found solace in the works of those who wield a higher power than me and on whose shoulders I proudly stand. I’m forever grateful for the fireworks of Seth Godin and Gary Vaynerchuk, but equally enthralled by Henry Mintzberg’s theories on emergent strategy.

And yet, an inquisitive mind has a knack of opening one door only to discover another one slightly ajar behind it, and the cycle continues.

All this academic soul searching would be pretty useless and self-serving if it didn’t move the game forward. And yet, despite the obvious professional growth and steady stream of successes, I didn’t see any real progress until I realized I was part of the problem.

It won’t have escaped any of you in marketing that every single one of your clients has, at some point, been disrupted. In the past four years alone, the automotive world has seen the arrival of electric cars and car sharing. Or what about the FMCG sector, which has gone so far online it’s now selling at a loss to keep up with the “ridiculously scary” Amazon.

Not enough? Then let’s talk about marble. If you’re like me and you live in Italy, you blindly associate marble with Carrara, but like everything in life, there’s far more to it than that. With marble production from Chinese, American and Turkish quarries going literally through the roof, Italy now has just 4.3% of the global market share of authentic marble production and is having a hard time maintaining that. Coupled with the (unexpected but predictable) arrival of cheaper artificial marble, even the age-old market of rocks have been shaken at its core.

And then the penny dropped.

We communicators are so busy adapting to our clients’ new surroundings we have forgotten that our world might be primed for disruption too. The unease that’s been growing inside of me is nothing more than the realization that we’re in a fast-flowing river of change but as a sector we’re actually standing still.

Think about it for a second. Apart from output (from TV to Digital), what exactly has disrupted the communication world? Nothing particular comes to mind.

Some of you might point out that one-time accountancy firms are now hiring creatives? Yeah that might unsettle us a little but they are the Goliaths of the marketing world so we take comfort in the fact that we’re not big enough to sit at those tables anyway.

No matter how edgy agencies and the talented professionals that work for them might be, our model hasn’t changed one bit in the past twenty years and that’s a painfully risky attitude to adopt.

In her signature video, Chief Reinvention Officer Nadya Zhexembayeva says that half a century ago, the life expectancy of a firm in the Fortune 500 was around 75 years. In other words they had 37 years of growth, and 37 years of decline. You could graduate, work your entire career in one place and retire and you would not see any significant change in the status of the company you worked for your entire life.

From the 1990’s that same life cycle had shrunk to just 15 years. Now, many indicators suggest it’s down to seven.

The problem then, is that we creatives live in an echo chamber of SEO skills with diminishing returns and shrinking media budgets but we’re not changing the game, we’re subjected to it.

As a result, we’re actually making it harder for ourselves to stay alive.

Michael Walsh
Senior Corporate Digital Strategist specialized in designing and implementing effective web communication strategies and service portfolios for small, medium and global firms.
Michael Walsh
Michael Walsh
Michael Walsh

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