The 4A’s is interested in how agency leaders are adapting to the rapid-fire changes in the industry. John Barker, Chief Idea Officer of Barker in New York, weighs in with his thoughts and experiences.
1) What’s the biggest challenge or opportunity facing the ad industry right now?
The biggest challenge will be re-establishing trust between large clients and the publicly traded agencies, if it’s even possible. In my personal opinion, the holding companies have really hurt advertising’s reputation with consecutive scandals involving media transparency and production bid-rigging. It’s unconscionable but hardly surprising. And it’s fair to point to procurement as well. Conversely, that challenge is also a real opportunity for independent agencies like ours that don’t have that quarterly profit pressure driving questionable decisions.
2) What is the single most significant change you need to make in your agency in the next 12 months?We’re launching a client by client initiative to elevate our value proposition as a change agent and growth partner, not just a do-er of things. Doing is essentially a commodity, and not enough clients are taking advantage of revolutionary thinking from their agencies. But we’re built for that.
3) What products/services/unique skills do ad agencies offer that guarantee the industry’s survival for another 100 years?
The industry spends an inordinate amount of time and attention focused on technology, from digital this to programmatic that. But ironically, it’s the tech that will come and go. Remember “hits” as a website metric? The only durable thing in our business is the power of creative ideas. Whether it’s a woman throwing a hammer through a screen featuring Big Brother or an art director sticking a straw directly into an orange or a copywriter saying “Where’s the beef,” those skills can never be commoditized or computerized. We will always need the brilliant minds that can engage audiences in whatever the latest technology may be.
4) What attributes do you look for in your next generation of leaders/managers?
Optimism and perseverance. And thinking synthetically across disciplines. I really believe the era of siloed thinking is ending. And I couldn’t be happier.
5) If you weren’t working in advertising, what would you be doing as a career?
I think Supervillain would be a cool job. It matches my personality except for the whole “evil” requirement. So, politics then.