Kenneth Williams Might Have Been Right

The late great English comedian Kenneth Williams (1926 – 1988) once gave an interview in which he said: “Everyone’s becoming better and better at less and less. Eventually someone’s going to be superb, at nothing”. Sadly perhaps, LinkedIn wasn’t around then, because if ever there was proof that Ken was wrong it is to be found in LinkedIn’s endorsement facility.

As Jeffrey Merrihue, now heading Mofilm but previously at Accenture and Kellogg’s (amongst others) put it recently in a post: “I’ve just been endorsed for a skill I don’t have by someone I don’t know”. I know exactly how he feels. I myself have been endorsed by any number of people for possessing 50 (or maybe even more) skills. It’s very kind of them, but really chaps I am not that multi-skilled.

Of course we all know where LinkedIn is coming from – I’m sure they make a reasonable penny from recruitment agencies and consultants – and if this community finds the endorsement notion valuable then….well, maybe I would look elsewhere for my recruitment needs.

There is a more serious point about all of this ‘being an expert’ thing. Look around the advertising eco-system. It’s so complicated, so crowded with so many specialists all overlapping with each other and all no doubt specialising in less and less. No wonder the average marketing director is confused, and looks back longingly no doubt to a sepia age in which full-service agencies did everything for a fixed level of commission.

I would be the last person to argue for a return to those days – in fact I’ve argued that today’s media professionals should pay a tithe to the likes of Chris Ingram, Ray Kelly, Paul Green, Allan Rich and the rest of those pioneers who took a risk by setting up the first media independents thus creating the media agency sector as it is today.

But perhaps things have gone a bit far.

If everyone, me included is an expert in advertising, or copywriting doesn’t that devalue the real skill required to create great ads? If everyone (me included again) is an expert in market research then why bother with anything except Survey Monkey?

There has never been a greater need for big, stand-out ideas; and to be fair if you look for them you’ll find them out there, struggling to be heard above all the crap and mediocrity. But the crap and the mediocrity increasingly seem to dominate. If this continues it diminishes the role that advertising, and indeed marketing plays in building business success. Now would be a good time to make more noise about the real expertise that exists in this industry, and the benefits brought to  their clients by these real, as opposed to LinkedIn experts.

Once the mythical Chairman’s wife stops saying ‘why can’t we have ads like that’ we’re on the way to proving Kenneth Williams right, and becoming superb at nothing at all.

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