Sherri Maxwell
Jun 25, 2013

Cannes impressions: Are we already too late?

The festival leaves Sherri Maxwell, ECD at Creative Underground in Hong Kong, pondering an industry that's been set on its ear and the role independent agencies can play within it.

Sherri Maxwell
Sherri Maxwell

Independent agencies were very present at Cannes this year, in the juries, and in entries as well. Being selected for the Direct jury was of course an honour, and  an opportunity to satisfy my curiosity and see a bit of what is going on in the industry.

An underlying theme emerged after attending some of the seminars, one that clearly shows a paradigm shift in the advertising world as we know it. With the industry playing catch-up via new channels such as online video creative content, real-time marketing, and social/digital, I feel that somehow we may already be too late.

During the festival, I went to see the Mofilm seminar in the Grand Auditorium, which showcased how they crowdsourced film directors to submit work for a pittance of what agencies cost. The work was backed by some very big brands. The following day I attended 'When advertising agencies grow up', with Goodby Silverstein & Partners, IDEO, and Victor & Spoils discussing the future of advertising agencies and that we are truly experiencing a 'Kodak moment'.

We need to acknowledge the time lag towards implementing the type of change needed, because the nature of marketing is now moving in real time and the channels are fragmenting, appearing and disappearing through trial and the fickle nature of the consumer. Let's come clean also about the term  being an 'expert' as well. When things are evolving so fast, this term becomes irrelevant. I think actual experience could be the only claim as of now.

I wonder if it is possible for this kind of continual change and flexibility to even exist in traditional business models within large agencies attached to even larger holding companies? Implementing this type of culture change throughout an entire global company structure would be quite a challenge. I've been in large advertising agencies for most of my career, but I saw the writing on the wall and needed to evolve myself drastically, seeking relevancy. I absolutely had to adapt, and radically, by making hard choices. And in doing so I started to become current, but it is an ongoing process of discovery. Hard choices do need to be made in our industry, and reorganisation with the future in mind will determine much, including who survives.

The fact that the internet is a game changer and democratic really flattens the playing field and sets the advertising world on its ear—with the behaviour of online consumers, the crowdsourcing of creative work, and the migration and reduction of marketing budgets. It is difficult to block out the message of "doing more with less", to say the least. One message stands out above them all though, and that is the public at large are now in direct dialogue with brands, and they like it a lot. Creativity does have a part to play in this, but the shift and funnelling of control or power in terms of the actual nature of marketing has indeed happened. And we are all now trying to figure out what to do about it.

Cannes has illuminated to me a need for a different kind of partnership between independent agencies and larger companies, one of friends and partners.

In "riding the wave" of this paradigm shift, being current is no longer enough, you need innovation in the foreground and the future as a motivator. Independent agencies need to be nurtured or celebrated and not controlled or owned so quickly. They need to be preferred working partners with big agencies and brands alike. Large agencies owning independent agencies without a long-term relationship first could potentially lead to a very short shelf life of value for all involved.

Perhaps the new role for the independent agencies rests in that they can take the risks, team play, adapt, and innovate as well, with greater ease, leading the way. Brands need to see that independent agencies are needed in their marketing mix as well and keep everybody innovating. There is no doubt new learnings could occur mutually, nor that creativity and innovation could flourish and help manage this rapid change we all find ourselves in.


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