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Lessons not learnt (well, not yet anyway)

Gary Leih

September 25 2012

After nearly thirty-three years in this industry, I am adopting the old adage 'The more things change, the more they stay the same' as my professional and personal mantra.

It is both alarming and amusing to me that we, as the communications industry, allow ourselves to be nervous and sometimes even downright frightened by the latest trends and developments and all the resultant 'new speak' that quickly develops and evolves around these trends and developments. We allow ourselves to feel threatened and even inferior and watch on as others make dire predictions about the end of our communications world as we know it. What nonsense!

Television arrived in South Africa in 1976.I remember because I was in my final school year and watching the test pattern while waiting (with our neighbours) for the next broadcast from 7 to 9 pm almost made me fail matric. Thankfully, I just scaped through and shortly thereafter entered the wonderful world of advertising.

With SATV came our self doubt about our abilities in relation to this new medium and the 'TV Guy' arrived to exploit this. We hired extremely expensive people from both the UK and the USA to do what we believed we couldn't. It took us about five years to overcome our fears and send these overpaid and often overbearing people back and to claim our rightful place again as guardians of the brand, the insight, the idea ' in all of its expressions. (And everyone had a TV department). Remember? I do. But in case you're much younger than me '.

Let's jump forward 20 years to 1996 and the advent of 'the great dot.con'. Remember that? Of course, with the great dot.com came ' Website Guy' ' overpaid and over envied. In many cases who just made us feel plain stupid ' we, the people who 'didn't know'. We all participated in the overvaluing of companies and of individuals at that time. And what happened? After a lot of people lost a lot of money, we returned to our rightful position of creating and curating insights, ideas and the expressions thereof. (And everyone had a website).

Let's jump forward a decade to 2006 when I took over the reigns as Chairman of the Ogilvy Group in the UK. By then web 2.0 was well under way and ' wouldn't you know it ' we as the communications industry were at it again ' practically squabbling in open bazaars to buy anything that vaguely resembled something we didn't know and felt threatened by. Guess what? It's past in the UK. All agencies are digital and if they are not, they are failing. And I'm really hoping it passes here soon.

But wait! There is more! And this is particularly important in the South African context. Hail the era of the mobile phone (and the advent of The Phone Guy). Actually ' and here is a good news story ' I was involved in securing the services of a very talented young man in the UK, who had an uncanny talent for developing really useful mobile apps. We pitched together on two large UK brands and won both. In both cases, the prospective clients tried to bargain to secure the use of our 'Phone Guy' exclusively. Of course, I said no, but the irony of this is that the self same guy had approached both of these client companies previously ' on his own ' to demonstrate his talent and got nowhere at all.

The point I am trying to make is that when his ideas were rooted in an overarching insight and a great idea, they came to life. Without these, his product was just another in the myriad of apps available! Why do we allow ourselves to be so threatened by the ever changing media landscape? Has history not shown us that we must and do ultimately embrace and master these new developments ' time and again.

And that the key is to own the insight, the idea and then to select the best mix of channels to deliver the message? The channels will always change and evolve ' as they should and must. The communications Industry, however, will always be about insights and ideas. And that will not change. Ever. I promise!

And you can trust me ' cause I am in advertising!!