We recently hired a young trainee, fresh out of college. When asked why he chose the advertising industry for his first job, his response was simply: “I was inspired by ‘Mad Men’.” So thank you, Don Draper, for selling the dream. All the glamour and glitz that the famed TV series oozes are bound to inspire many impressionable young minds.
But you and I both know that in reality, the charm and aura depicted have all but disappeared. While there might be many reasons behind why the fairy tale has come to an end, there is one that well and truly stands out – and that is trust. Rather, the lack of it. Our industry has become incredibly opaque.
Today, CEOs complain that their CMOs are not being transparent; the CMOs feel that their agencies are not transparent; the agencies feel that media and tech partners are not transparent (cue the cries around “walled gardens”). And, as the list goes on, the most critical stakeholder in our industry – the consumers – are becoming more sceptical about the practice of advertising than ever before.
Yes, all parties in the equation – brands, media partners, agencies and holding groups included – are hungry for stronger revenue growth; which industry isn’t? The pressures, at times, can be quite intense! However, there are no shortcuts to long-lasting success, with indiscretion, questionable dealings and fraud rocking the boat for the entire industry by fuelling the vicious cycle of distrust.
However, there is a way that we can all rectify this and restore trust in our trade. DDB’s co-founder Bill Bernbach says: “The most powerful element in advertising is the truth.” While he might have used this simple yet profound line in the context of copywriting, this statement also holds true in everything we do across the advertising landscape. Honesty and transparency are what could make everyone – from the brand’s CEOs to their end consumers – start trusting one another again.
In order to get the dialogue started, and in the spirit of collaboration with the entire industry to address and resolve this matter for our collective advancement, here are some of the areas that we have focused on at PHD Malaysia in order to challenge the industry practices that give everyone a bad rap:
Open your books (and regain faith)
Having a clear set of guidelines and policies on how you ensure your business is compliant with auditing regulations, and having your books routinely checked by third-party auditors (be it media audits, financial audits and compliance audits, etc.), helps build client trust and faith in your organisation.
No one wants to be associated with an organisation that is hesitant about their business practices coming under scrutiny.
Proprietary media doesn’t have to be black holes
Proprietary media holdings by itself is not a problem. But it does become one when companies give into the temptation to squeeze in those extra margins, especially when times are tough. Don’t turn these into black holes; rather, present these as they are and help clients see the benefits.
Be the neutral voice
This directly follows the preceding point. Usually with proprietary media holdings comes the pressure to start “preferring” certain media and tech partners over others, on a consistent basis, no matter what business challenge you are trying to address for your client. It won’t be long before clients start to see through this and there goes your trust out the window!
Be neutral about the partners you work with and make recommendations that genuinely solve your clients’ business challenges, rather than your own.
We live by this principal when it comes to our approach to data and tech. Rather than owning any tech platform, we stay neutral and always recommend what the best solution.
Avoid getting into murky financial dealings
This seems obvious but gets overlooked very often. #smh. It doesn’t matter who you are dealing with – whether it be a governmental body or a well-established organisation – if a certain financial deal seems murky, stay clear and don’t get involved!
Own up to your mistakes and acknowledge them
Let’s face it, agencies have traditionally had a huge mental block when owning up to their own mistakes (chances are, you had a telling smile on your face as you read that). However, agencies are made up of human beings, and we all know that no one can always be perfect. Yes, it takes immense courage to own up to our own mistakes, and more often than not, the experience is unpleasant. However, in the long run, making mistakes allows us to learn and improve, and clients will appreciate your openness.
As an industry, our credibility and transparency have long been cast by shadows of doubt. It is high time to challenge this notion and overthrow the practices that create those doubts. At PHD, right from the early 90s when we started out as the original challengers of the way media planning is done, the bedrock of our values has always started with honesty. And we believe that from this foundation are we truly able to live by our brand values of being be courageous, creative and collaborative.
Having said that, I also must reiterate:
Transparency is not a destination. It is and should be a perpetual journey for everyone in the industry.
So, let’s all take the leap together and start taking actions now that put us back on the path of that journey!