To fix adland's morale problem, start with the work

If we want morale to get better, a great place to start would be getting over TV commercials, writes the co-founder and chief creative officer of Walrus.

According to a recent survey conducted by Campaign US, 47% of advertising industry employees are suffering from "low morale." Put another way, if you were to walk into any advertising agency, statistically, every other person you see is probably depressed about being there. For a profession that's generally considered to be fun, this is a sobering fact. Why is everyone so down on the business?

I believe a good part of this dissatisfaction can be attributed to the work we're making, or, more accurately, the work we're not making.

Most people I know got into the business to make or be a part of making commercials. They saw an awesome Old Spice ad, or Snickers ad, or Got Milk ad at some point and decided that advertising seemed like a great profession that would allow them to use both sides of their brain and make 30-second movies that everybody will see and occasionally enjoy. The industry, on the other hand, is no longer in the business of making commercials primarily. Last year 60% of agency revenues came from digital, and that number continues to grow. That would be perfectly fine if agency people actually enjoyed working on digital, but many of them don't. There are lots of reasons for this, but I believe most of them stem from not having a decent canvas to work within (banners), or not having a big enough production budget to create work on the scale that they've grown accustomed to. But this disdain is by no means universal across industries.

The large majority of Silicon Valley doesn't seem to have much of a problem being associated with digital advertising. Facebook, Google, YouTube, Snapchat, etc. have made billions from non-television based advertising and every day new companies are cropping up to serve more and more advertising across the internet. Do all these organizations have morale problems? Heck, no. People gleefully go to work at these places, sleep under their desks at these places, and fight tooth and nail to interview at these places whose singular financial goal is to sell or buy ad space. Meanwhile, on the other end of that transaction, where the "creative magic" supposedly happens, morale is at an all-time low. 

If we want to affect agency morale for the better, a great place to start would be getting over TV commercials. They're losing relevance rapidly (even the NFL is seeing lower ratings this season), and everyone except advertising agencies has come to realize this. Advertisers have figured it out, and they are moving on without their agency partners either by developing in-house capabilities, or utilizing crowdsourcing, or cobbling together whatever platoon of specialist shops they can to fill the gaps in the media plan that agencies have shown only half-hearted interest in addressing. 

We, the agencies, need to fix this situation. Let's take the work back, and let's make it great. We need to put our minds to the task of making these new platforms sing and creating a steady stream of ideas that the next generation of creatives can aspire to. A Geico unskippable ad here, and an Old Spice Twitter campaign there are not enough. We need to be doing great digital work that's perfect for the medium all the time. We need a creative groundswell that helps the public and marketers remember the difference between the dreck and the good stuff. Why are we sitting back and letting the New York Times in-house media division beat us at our own game? We need to push. Let's do work that's demonstrably more noticeable, more enjoyable, and thus (as we all know) more effective than anything clients can do without us. Let's, dare I say it, make advertising great again. 

This does not require the wholesale reworking of business models; it merely requires a rethinking of priorities. Are we putting our best people on projects other than Super Bowl spots? Do teams have enough time to think? Internally are we treating these projects as creative opportunities or drudgery? Are we pushing our clients to do good work, and admonishing them when they put out work on their own that doesn’t live up to the standards of their brand? Are we helping our clients make the case that better work works better to their bosses, and touting their successes when they do something daring with us? When our clients do bring on an additional partner, do we help make their work better or do we just smother it with "not invented here" negativity?

By changing the work we're making, and the way we feel about making it, agencies can make people feel good about coming to work again.

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