The accountant in advertising
by Siwe Thusi (@Siwe_Thusi) John Wanamaker, an American marketing pioneer, once said, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.” If I were his accountant, Wanamaker would have made me hyperventilate internally, muffle silent screams and break into theoretic hives.
First, hi, I’m Siwe, the CA(SA) lost gleefully in the world of advertising as a creative (creative strategist, if you want to be technical). But what I soon discovered is that, in this world, the sooner you rightfully start describing yourself as a creative, the easier it is for you to see yourself as part of producing the creative-end product.
Wait. What the heck is an accountant doing in advertising?!!!!!!
All too often, inspired advertising is not produced in a traditional working week.
How’s this for another shocker? Creative work is also subjective, so a great idea to one person is a complete head-scratcher to another. That means that, unlike an accountant, there are no right or wrong answers.
Oh, and in advertising they encourage you to get out more. An ExperiencesChaser-DoThings-MakeThings-SeekDailyDosesOfInspo-IDoItForTheCulture mind is a good advertising brain. The best agencies will expect you to fill yours with experiences that will benefit the work. Nice. Or not, if I have my accountant hat on. Coz, personal-budget-excel-spreadsheet.
And I guess that’s my fascination. The anomaly of an accountant working creatively in advertising allows for the one-up of viewing two worlds running in parallel, at any given time. I get to see the fact that accounting and advertising share a similar mission: they both need to get results.
Accountability, at the core of the word, means to account for the stuff you’ve been up to. Pretty self-explanatory, if you’re an account-ant. Not so much if you’re a market-er. Or creative.
Which makes it apparent that accountants and marketers could actually be distant cousins. Much like accountants, marketers have the clear mandate to always work to connect the dots between activity and revenue. Marketing is about generating revenue. For marketers, art, humour, or creativity are the means to an end, not the end. Marketers who aren’t serious about tying their activity back to revenue are missing the bigger picture.
So, what helps us tie activities to revenue? Measuring return on investment (ROI) in advertising does.
ROI is a shared term in both the accounting worlds and the advertising worlds. How we get to that measurement, though, is an entirely different exercise.
Accounting: return = revenue divided by the cost of investment.
Advertising: err… the jury is still out.
ROI is basically about saying, “Has this idea been worth it?”
Calculating ROI for marketing/advertising work may be tricky, depending on how you measure impact and costs. The easiest is calculating the target revenue to marketing/advertising cost ratio which represents how much money is generated for every rand spent in advertising. I’ve seen these costs come dressed under a veiled budget whose strain becomes even more fragile in the current VAT-at-15% economic climate, years after the Mad-Men era that I missed. The costs aren’t only the obvious and measurable ones. A type of immeasurable cost can come in the form of losing control over data, which could ultimately mean losing control over media spend. Add to that that the “influx of the online revolution” comes with its own measurables which influence costs. These are the types of metrics that help clients to make informed business decisions — and can position creatives (and the one or two accountants who are now creatives) as business partners.
Creatives want to win awards, but the higher purpose should be about being business problem-solvers first. This is what your Accentures et al have one up on us.
How dos you conclude if inyuku is being wisely spent on advertising campaigns? That’s right, money.
Advertising can’t happen without money. Clients can’t make money without advertising. The singular connector in both the advertising and accounting worlds will always be money. And what really excites me is when I see compelling insight-driven storytelling that makes the money allocated to it work hard.
This is why platforms such as the recent APEX Awards are important. Because they remind advertisers to be accountable for all the pieces of work put out. That it is bizarre not to do post-campaign analyses. That a wasted budget gives the real accountants back at the client theoretic hives.
And that maybe, just maybe, we could start looking at another measurable called return on insight (ROI), too — but that’s a Cannes of words to be opened on another day.
 inyuku — money, moolah
Siwe Thusi (@Siwe_Thusi) is a qualified South African chartered-accountant-turned-creative-strategist at FCB Africa and a working photographer. She has three years’ experience in strategic planning on some of South Africa’s big brands in different categories and industries in the ATL space. She contributes the monthly column “An Accountant in Adland” — exploring where, when and how the two ‘disciplines’ overlap… and why they should! — to MarkLives.com.
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