Wondering What The Future Might Hold For Your Agency? Read About Newspapers.

A good friend forwarded this link to a fascinating blog post by Clay Shirky, author of Here Comes Everybody.  It is longish, but if you are at all interested in the changing agency landscape, Shirky’s insights on these waning days of newspapers provide a valuable analogy to the challenges advertising currently faces.  Or doesn’t.

Or We Might Want To Find Another Way Across
Or Perhaps We Should Find Another Way Across

Shirky posits that while newspapers clearly saw the internet coming well over a decade ago, they didn’t respond by rethinking and reinventing their product along new paths but rather tried to fabricate fanciful profit models rooted in the old habits, even though those old habits were already changing and would most likely accelerate.

Shirky makes many fascinating points (and reading the following excerpt does not excuse you from reading his original post) but I found this the most trenchant for our current situation:

“When reality is labeled unthinkable, it creates a kind of sickness in an industry.  Leadership becomes faith-based, while employees who have the temerity to suggest that what seems to be happening is in fact happening are herded into Innovation Departments, where they can be ignored en masse.  This shunting aside of the realists in favor of the fabulists has different effects on different industries at different times.  One of the effects on the newspapers is that many of their most passionate defenders are unable, even now, to plan for a world in which the industry they knew is visibly going away.”

I won’t pretend I have the answer to the agency world’s challenges…yet.  But I think we can draw some pretty helpful analogies between the advertising and newspaper industries, and hopefully learn some lessons from their struggles. And so to prepare for advertising’s future, I will force myself to think some unthinkable thoughts.

And I do not think of myself as Chicken Little, because I don’t think the sky is falling.

Actually, it could be opening up…

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

2 thoughts on “Wondering What The Future Might Hold For Your Agency? Read About Newspapers.

  1. Tom says:

    The trick here is to know what is “real” and what is a “fable”. The facts are all around us and the facts lie. Sorry but having the US Government as a client has jaded me. I think it takes great LISTENING in order to figure out what is real and what is just our dream to stay the same. Objective listening will help us in these times of transition. The digital agency is on the ropes just as much as the ‘traditional’ agency. Clients know their consumers use all media differently and that is who we should be listening to. When consumers stopped thinking about “logging on” to get information and just walked over to their computer/TV and got it…well the converged agency was born.

    If the newspaper biz figured out they weren’t in the biz of dropping newsprint on peoples doorsteps. That they were in the biz of delivering news to people and they listened to what and how people wanted it…well who knows.

    An interesting fable book about this topic is called “Our Iceberg Is Melting”. I’m not big on these types of books but it does facilitate conversation.

  2. Mike D says:

    Here’s a fact: change is uncomfortable. And that won’t be changing.

    In my, albeit limited, experience it seems that things change in companies in two ways. Either someone in leadership gets motivated to get uncomfortable (either through necessity or foresight), or someone who’s already comfortable with the perceived “change” (one of our friends in the Innovation Department) moves into leadership. Everything in between is that age-old struggle we all love talking about.

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