Sep 19, 2007

Google This

image courtesy of adage.com


So the ad industry is all abuzz over Google’s hiring of Ogilvy/NY president Andy Berndt to head up their Creative Lab division, the conventional wisdom being that this is Google’s way of getting into the ad business.

Now I knew Berndt when I was at Ogilvy and the main thing I remember about him (other than his height—he’s about 6 foot 8) is that he’s a very smart guy. Smart in a knows-a-lot-of-things-about-the-world-at-large kind of way. The kind of guy who read books because they interested him, not because he thought it would make him look like an intellectual to be seen carrying them.

And that’s relevant for three reasons: one, Google seems to hire a whole lot of very smart people. On paper, anyway. Take a look at the jobs section of their website. Every position seems to call for someone with a serious résumé. Take this tidbit, from a job listing for a “Strategic Partner Development, Manager, Local Markets Team
  • Bachelor’s degree from a leading institution
  • MBA from a top-tier business school a plus.
  • 3+ years experience at a top-tier investment bank or consulting firm in addition to 3 to 5 years experience in business development or product management, closing, managing or launching large-scale partnerships.

I mean damn, I know very few people with those kind of stats. Certainly not in the ad business. And while a degree from a top b-school or university doesn’t make you a genius, it’s a pretty good indication that Google is looking for the best and the brightest.

Which brings me to point two: If you want the best and the brightest, you’ve got to pay them. That’s something Google is clearly doing to attract that level of talent, but something the ad industry clearly isn’t doing anymore. Yeah, the occasional flash developer seems to be raking it in, but the rank and file are paid a lot less than they were even 10 years ago. Even the very senior rank and file.

And that hurts our business in so many ways. It makes it hard to recruit good people. To keep them. But it’s more than that. The bargain basement salary structure reinforces the notion that we no longer have the best and brightest—or anywhere close.

Back in the Mad Men days, advertising agencies generally recruited out of the Ivy Leagues. Not a boon for diversity, but they did get the best people, smart, creative people who were attracted to a frequently glamorous industry that offered the possibility of serious cash. Ask any (very) senior account guy- back in the day, b-school grads all wanted to work for the agency, not client-side. These days the situation is reversed.

Which brings me to my third and final point: we are never going to be taken seriously if we don’t change this perception. If clients regard agency employees as a bunch of second-rate talents who couldn’t land a job elsewhere, they’re not going to take our opinions very seriously. Or even entertain the idea of treating us as equals, let alone experts. And while I realize that much of this is a result of most agencies being owned by publicly traded holding companies whose business models are based on getting more value from fewer people, I’m afraid the net result is just going to be fewer people, as the value of retaining an ad agency becomes less and less apparent.

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