Keeping an Open Mind

Disclosure: BJ&A works with Byline Times, sister to the Byline Festival mentioned in this post

The best, and most successful people within advertising have always kept an open mind. They recognise that ideas come from anyone and anywhere, and there is great merit in looking outside our own little circle both at the wider world, and at those engaged in other creative endeavours.

Tracey Follows and John Griffiths in their fascinating book ’98% Pure Potato’ chart the history of account planning and how that discipline helped shape modern advertising.

They make the point that account planning changed advertising by refusing to accept that there was only one, formulaic way of doing things.

Sheila Byfield in her new book ‘In With the Old, In With the New’ writes that when she joined Ogilvy she spent time in each department: ‘I had a big picture understanding of the business and … could talk far more knowledgeably with clients than I would have been able to do with a one-dimensional view limited to my specific discipline’.

Don’t just accept the status quo; and understand how what you do, within your particular specialism fits with everything around you.

I spent the holiday weekend at The Byline Festival listening to panel sessions and interviews. The topics included ‘How To Defend the BBC’ (I came away wondering if the title should have been: Whether..); the influence that dark money and misusing individuals’ social media data has had on recent elections / referendums; how Tommy Robinson was created and marketed; and the issues caused by a lack of regulation around political advertising and indeed social media generally.

Speakers ranged from high profile figures like Carole Cadwalladr, Misha Glenny, Kirsty Laing, Peter Jukes, Peter York, Luke Harding and Gina Miller through to UK correspondents from Die Welt, the Greek TV network Hellenic BC, and Le Monde.

There was nobody on stage from the commercial side of the media business (understandably perhaps), nor (shamefully) from management.

I thought back to the days of ‘The Sunday Times’ under Harry Evans and the support he received from his Sales Director when the Insight team ran investigative campaigns that upset some of the paper’s advertisers.

Would today’s sales heads behave in the same way (I doubt it)?

What would it take for the agencies to think a little about on issues other than the numbers?

I know the argument that we should only be about reaching an audience (more ads on Pornhub then), indeed up to a point I support them, but should it not be part of our role to consider in the round the media that carry our advertisers’ messages.

I learned a lot at Byline – I did not know that there are now more people employed in PR than there are journalists, nor was I aware that UK newspapers are the least trusted in Europe.

I was broadly aware of the pressures journalists are under – but not to the extent that their lack of numbers mean that many are reduced to recycling press releases, generating clicks or being monstered (or blackballed) for not swallowing whole the latest spin from whichever politician.

It was also clear that journalists simply don’t understand why it is that political advertising in this country is not subject to the same creative rules that apply to other forms of advertising.

They have a point.

We seem stuck in our own little bubble.

Within the media end of the ad business we’ve become so locked into the detail, the smaller issues, the gross numbers and the meaningless online metrics that we have lost sight of the bigger picture.

How do people use the media, how does the media itself influence opinion and behaviours? How important is editorial integrity, and if it is, what can, or should the ad industry do about supporting and promoting it?

How should newspapers be funded in the era of FB, Google et al?

Can we truly have a free press when politicians and leaders simply bark ‘Fake News’ at anything that displeases them – and be believed by their supporters.

These are complicated issues; we should all want to be part of the debate and to discuss whether our industry can play any role in driving change.

Best done with an open mind.


1 Comment
  1. I agree wholeheartedly. This business should, at its best, be far more than selling a bar of soap. Many of us started because we wanted to understand (and motivate/persuade) people – is the industry going to simply pass the baton to the likes of Cummings and be done with it? I genuinely hope not but I may be a voice in the wilderness

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