by Emma King (@EmmainSA) It’s easy to start lamenting about the end of days for our industry and about the glory days of past. But there is value in seeing the current tough times as a vehicle of opportunity instead.

The last few months have not told tales of Mad-Men-like decadence and creative glory but, instead, have whispered of retrenchments, shrinking budgets, disappearing clients and iconic businesses closing their doors. Grim times, indeed. But innovation works best in times of financial hardship, and recessions generally show a surge in startups and entrepreneurial thinking. This makes sense. Why change things when everything is easy? Limited resources, however, force us to change and find new ways of doing things.

The ad industry, as it stands, has been a lumbering behemoth of a dinosaur for eons. I cannot count how many clients have complained about huge account teams, lengthy creative processes, and, most importantly, the eye-watering fees that are needed to keep the beast alive. Yet, although many of the big agency bosses have known this deep down inside, they have been unable to radically change this business model, as they struggled to keeping feeding this beast on a daily basis.


But, during these times of limited resources, of financial hard times and economic decay, wouldn’t it be exciting to see we may be forced to radically relook at what we do and how we work?

With massively reduced creative and account teams comes the need to critically relook at how they are structured. It really doesn’t need an account executive, an account manager, an account director, a business unit director, a traffic manager, a production manager and three creatives to take and implement a brief or sit at a shoot. So why keep working that way?

Can clients not deal directly with the strategists and creatives that are the custodians for their brands, and can account managers not amend the odd line of copy every now and again, instead of briefing 10 other people to carry out a job-bag instruction? It seems silly spelt out like this but, in reality, it’s how many of the bigger agencies are working — and these same agencies are the ones that are struggling when the client questions their budget.

Clever thinking

Smaller hot shops that create beautiful work quickly and nimbly with teams and costs at a fraction of that of their larger counterparts are picking up the work which the big boys are missing out on. And clever-thinking entrepreneurs are looking at ways of delivering services and talent on a pick-and-mix basis, rather than lumbering on with massive teams on retainers — think Uber for the ad industry, if you will.

We’re entering into scary times and we’re all going to have to tighten our belts a bit. But resisting change doesn’t make change go away — just ask Kodak and VHS. Instead, seeing this economic downturn as an instigator for innovation may just be the thing that kickstarts this industry into the next century.


Emma KingEmma King (@EmmainSA) is the owner and MD of The Friday Street Club (@TheFridayStClub). She is allergic to bad grammar and ampersands, but likes working her way through piles of novels and travelling the globe. She contributes the monthly “Dissident Spin Doctor” column on PR and communication issues to

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