by MarkLives (@marklives) What are the expectations for the marketing and advertising industry in 2018? We emailed a panel of key industry executives for their take on the macro environment, budgets, changes in messaging, movement in the industry and any consumer and communication trends they’ll be looking out for. Next up is Mike Abel of M&C Saatchi Abel.

Mike Abel

Mike AbelMike Abel (@abelmike) heads the group he and his partners started in 2010: it now comprises M&C Saatchi Abel Johannesburg and Cape Town, M&C Saatchi Africa, CONNECT, Creative Spark and Dalmatian. He has 28 years of industry experience, and has built and led major groups in South Africa and Australia. In our MarkLives Agency Leaders’ Most Admired poll for 2016, he was named a contender for the most-admired agency boss in South Africa and was runner-up for most-admired agency boss in Cape Town.

2017 saw a number of brown shoots creeping out the soil. No longer green, full of hope and optimism, they looked like they were struggling to emerge with real growth potential. While stock markets have risen, while bitcoin and other crypto-currencies became the must-have flavors of the day, for everyone from your cab driver to barber (always the first major watch-out of a bubble), there is definite instability rumbling within the global economic foundations.

As the UK confronts Brexit; as Europe confronts Brexit. As Trump and Kim Jong Un rattle sabres, as global debt grows, as uncertainty continues to destabilise the Middle East, as Russia continues to fiddle beyond its borders. Or maybe it hasn’t? Hell, we could be in the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s or ‘’80s — when hasn’t the world been in a mess? When haven’t we had uncertainty?

Uncertainty sells

But uncertainty sells. Not just gold but new snake-oil salespeople come to town selling their unique salves, cures and balms. New business models are predicted, and the imminent demise of the ad industry gets predicted — as has been the case for over two decades.

As soothsayers, naysayers and other doomsdayers like to espouse about the industry irrefutable implosion, truth be told, the industry isn’t in a bad way at all. Let me qualify.

The ad industry’s stock in trade is ideas. Not any idea, not a scam ad that goes on to win global fame even if it never sold one single item but ideas that solve client’s business challenges and sales objectives.
If you’re in that game, and if you understand the various pulleys and levers to help grown your client’s business through customer-focused strategies, then how can you be vulnerable as an industry? Why would a client hoof an indispensable business partner delivering growth and ROI?

The reason global groups are struggling is partly because they used acquisitions to drive their growth. Growth in many instances wasn’t organic and off solid bases but through adding revenue to the top — while the founders of those companies saw the acquisitions as exit strategies. And so, three years down the line, you’ve paid top dollar for a star yet the jockeys who rode the horses across the winning line are no longer there. Nor are the trainers.

Growth strategy

That is why one should never acquire a company if the founders want to exit; it’s only if they see a vibrant and vital partnership with one as a growth strategy whereby the less equity they own through the partnership will ultimately be worth more than had they held everything for themselves. Some of the greatest agencies have withered on the vine of a global acquisitions because the sellers feel cramped, controlled, disincentivised and unappreciated.

It’s been extensively covered in the most highly regarded business publications that the best protection against AI stealing jobs is to be in the creative industry. It’s going to be a long while before we see computers develop an imagination or intuition. To be able to see what isn’t vs replicating what is.

So, while it’s often commented on that consultants are entering the advertising industry space, we’ll meet them and raise them, as good agencies enter their space with big, ballsy and effective ideas that fuel growth vs simply analysing the status quo and doing some predictive modelling.

Sure, agencies need to be immersed in their client’s business, to live it, eat it, sleep it, drink it, to truly add value but, when they do, and that beautiful, simple, powerful idea arises, there’s little else that has the power to push the sales graph in the right direction.


2018 will be a tough year economically. New agencies will be born, new technologies will be discovered, and established agencies may die. Just like they did last year. Just as they’ll do in two years, in five years.
Predicting the demise of the industry every year is click-bait for marketing publications, and fuels the ambitions and bravado of consulting firms.

Respected ad agencies will continue to build invaluable trusted relationships with their clients, based on their innate ability to understand their existing and potential customers, and to drive innovation, relevance and reappraisal. If they don’t, then they sadly deserve to be part of the doomsday predictions. Such is the way of life in any business, not just advertising.

It is, once again, not our Kodak moment.

#BigQ2018 series

See also


MarkLives logoLaunched in 2016, “The Big Q” is a regular column on MarkLives in which we ask key advertising and marketing industry execs for their thoughts on relevant issues facing the industry. If you’d like to be part of our pool of panellists, please contact editor Herman Manson via email (2mark at marklives dot com) or Twitter (@marklives). Suggestions for questions are also welcomed.

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