The future isn't written, but the ending could be brilliant

Addiction, equality and marketing the matters are adland's biggest themes right now, says CEO at Zenith USA, Moxie and MRY.

An overt degree of speculation surrounds the future state of our industry. To me, what’s coming is not such a mystery. The future of marketing and advertising will be increasingly personalized, tech-enabled and data-enhanced. Consumers will continue to choose what they consume and brands will continue to try and influence what consumers choose to consume.

The once far-fetched machinations of Sci-Fi films will come to life. Take John Anderton’s (aka Tom Cruise) mall experience from Minority Report -- a hyper customized consumer experience that uses retina scans for identification and profiling. Sound familiar, iPhone X?   

The Internet of Things will follow similar suit, with life imitating the art of a 2001 Simpsons Treehouse of Horror special. Radical utility in the home is just around the corner; albeit, Pierce Brosnan is unlikely to be included.

We’ll see self-driving cars, we might also see self-driving media planning. Alexa will blossom out of an awkward adolescence; OK Google will end up being much better than just "ok," and through it all creative minds will continue to create with an expanding canvas at their disposal.

This future is indeed bright and filled with wonderment, but the brilliance that I see ahead has nothing to do with a next generation of capabilities or technology. It has everything to do with a next generation of people.

The last few years have been heavy… there’s really no other word for it. Like the broader cultural zeitgeist, our industry has been forced to acknowledge and address people-related issues that were long past due. But rather than retreat and/or accept, I finally see the seedlings of an industry waking up and growing up. In the last 12 months, three things in particular have provided me with a renewed sense of optimism.

We’re with her

Since Zenith opened its doors over 20 years ago in the U.S. (long before I was a part), female leaders have been a critical element of our DNA.  The ascent we’ve enjoyed began in large part with the dominant forces that were, and are, Wendy Marquardt and Peggy Green. At that time, it was (sadly) revolutionary to empower female leaders as the internal and external leads of an agency.  But Wendy and Peggy’s collective success broke through convention and laid the foundation for what we are as a business. Critically, much of their spirit and personality -- defined by dedication, humanity, boldness, competitiveness and "doing it right," endure in our hallways to this day.

More recently, I’ve seen first-hand the power of female leadership at Zenith, Moxie and within Publicis Media. Solange Claudio’s elevation to president at Moxie in 2016 aligns with the most successful growth period in the company’s 18-year history. This is not a coincidence. As chief client officer on Verizon, Shenan Reed has had an immediate impact on the culture and confidence of our 1,000-plus Zenith U.S. employees, showing our organization the true meaning and value of "calm, cool and collected." Similarly, the force of nature that is Helen Lin, Publicis Media’s president of investment and global partnerships, inspires intelligence, energy and positivity with everyone she meets. Don’t take my word for it, ask anyone in the industry.

I could go on and on as I’m also fortunate to see Linda, Lisa, Lauren, Kathy, Ava, and Liz in action every week. More telling, this effort isn’t just blossoming at my Publicis Media home, it’s happening across the industry. Whether its Wendy Clark’s elevation to global president and CEO at DDB Worldwide, Sarah Hofstetter’s chairman appointment at 360i, Amanda Richman taking over at Wavemaker in the U.S., or Carla Serrano’s climb within Publicis Groupe -- women are not only taking the reins of departments and accounts, they are increasingly taking leadership roles for their entire agency and agency network.

The importance in these examples is the exposure and influence they have on our inspired talent. These heroes may not be wearing capes, but they are setting a standard for a next generation to aspire towards and beyond. This is the formula at the foundation of the change we need and it’s brilliant to see in action.

Marketing that matters

As a force that can influence change with one viral video, marketers have the opportunity to support future-forward, equality-driven, game-changing efforts. And, while we’re all busy in this business, the increasing emphasis that leaders and youth are placing on causes that have positive societal consequences are as good as it gets for me.

Last month, I attended the inaugural graduation of the Verizon AdFellows, a program intended to fuel diversity and inclusion in our industry. As advertised, it was a glimpse into the future of our industry where people-power and performance where enhanced through a deliberately diverse composition of participants. To summarize succinctly, the CMO at one of the world’s largest marketers felt so strongly about addressing a void in our industry, he took the issue by the horns and began to solve for it directly with vision and determination.

It’s this same vision and determination that I’ve also observed many leaders of our industry apply as members of the Gun Safety Alliance. While the alliance is a coalition of business leaders from many industries, the impact of those in visible marketing and advertising roles is palpable.

Closer to home, two employees with less than a year of experience recently challenged me in leading the Penn State THON fundraiser at Zenith, raising thousands of dollars to support the families of children battling cancer. They didn’t ask for a Barista or to work Fridays from home, they wanted our agency resource put towards a cause that would have consequential societal impact. I’ve never had more faith in the future of our industry.

For decades, The Ad Council has provided our industry with a conscience. Increasingly, we’re seeing that conscience expand. Individuals are lending their personal brand equities, company resources, and elbow grease to efforts that are good for our world, not just our industry.  This is advertising at its best.

Supporting individuals struggling with addiction

Our industry has always wrestled with substance abuse issues with "work hard, play hard" often being our motto. Books, movies and tv shows (lots and lots of TV shows) have been written about the industry’s skill in having a good time. While the majority of people in our industry have been able to handle themselves on such occasions, not everyone is so fortunate. Some people struggle mightily with sobriety and for the majority of my career, I’ve observed that these struggles were largely left to the individual to shoulder.

While a recent doubling-down on policy from some of the holding companies has set the right tone, as with past efforts implementations weren’t necessarily designed for individuals. Which is why the development of SEAM (Sober Executives in Advertising, Media and Marketing) is such a profound and powerful step for our industry. Founded by a very brave Ian Mirmelstein in 2017, the group has picked up steam in terms of its visibility and membership over the last 12 months. Ian "isn’t just the owner, he’s a customer too," bringing a voice of credibility to an issue that has been commonly overlooked for far too long. Thankfully, this comes at a time of increased understanding of the relationship between substance abuse and depression. If we’re going to push our people to the limit, it seems only fair that we provide the tools to help them cope and succeed with the resulting pressures that just about all of us face every day.

A beautiful ending

If you look at the potential capabilities on the horizon combined with meaningful, people-related efforts increasingly coming into focus, then you have the making of something pretty spectacular. We aren’t yet where we need to be on people-related issues. There is undeniably much work ahead. But if you’re like me, and you can start to see it, then maybe we as an industry can both believe it and behave it.

Has the future been written? Not just yet, but if these are the first few chapters unfolding before us, then I think the ending has a chance to be brilliant.

Sean Reardon is the CEO at Zenith USA, Moxie and MRY.