TWO years ago, the 155 passengers on Flight 1549 were deeply grateful that silver-haired Captain “Sully” Sullenberger was at the helm and not some less experienced pilot, when a crash landing in the Hudson was required.
That’s because individuals, and until recently most companies, place high value on experience. Boys and Girls, one of the newest ad agencies in Dublin, boast “over 80 years experience”. This is relevant and understandable. The skillset of communicators is honed by time spent communicating just as the ability to navigate any crisis improves with the number of flying hours clocked up. The more problems you have solved the more problems you can solve. For creatives, the more ideas you have, the easier it is to have them; practice makes perfect. We know the brands we service believe this too, as they’re always happy to say how long they’ve been around, as a testament to their quality.
So what is happening in Dublin agencies? Around the time Flight 1549 was brushing with death, McCann’s let go about 70 years of creative experience in the form of Jonathan Stanistreet, Gerry McCloskey and Conor Ferguson. Last year Irish International lost from its board around 75 years of experience in Barry Dooley, Eoghan Nolan and Eamon Clarkin (Dooley had put in 17 years on the Barry’s Tea brand alone). Now Ogilvy have shed another half century in the shape of Ian Brower and John Milne. This is not to mention the extra 100 years or more lost across these agencies in other good practitioners in the same period.
Why would anyone lose this wealth of experience at a time when calm heads and sure hands are so badly needed? Because quality and experience cost more money. Twentysomethings are cheaper than fortysomethings. Time was that agencies talked about their assets coming in to work in the morning. Now those same assets are seen as overheads to be unceremoniously cut, often on the quiet. (After all, if clients become aware they’re getting less from their agency they’ll want to pay less for it, right?). But regardless of changing technologies and altered circumstances, ours is a people business. Creatives who are veterans of campaigns develop an informed sense of what people want. Seasoned client service people know how to manage projects, how to anticipate a brand’s needs. Mature planners have a keen awareness of patterns and trends from observation over time, knowing how to turn data into knowledge. At its very least, all that wisdom helps avert costly cock-ups.
Those same agencies that have been hemorrhaging experience, that are ruthlessly de-skilling, continue to promote the principles of brand knowledge, of creativity and expertise. But as Bill Bernbach noted, a principle isn’t a principle until it costs you money.