Leading North American advertising agencies used to be headed by creatives and innovators. Today, managers and accountants hold the reins. The result? Less focus on innovation, and more on efficiency and maintaining revenue.

This has created a crisis in confidence in the sector, with vital young talent pursuing their passion in sectors like tech.

Andrew Carty’s agency Send+Receive is rethinking the role of agencies, and changing a number of accepted practices to put the focus back where it belongs. Crafting great ideas.

Carty’s agency is also re-emphasizing the importance of selling, striving to achieve outcomes that should make any client CFO smile.

Andrew joined me for a lively discussion where we covered these issues, and more.

You can check out the actual interview by pressing play. Or skip ahead to the highlights that follow. Enjoy!

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Has advertising lost its way?

Advertising is the business of selling things. We are vital cogs in the machine of capitalism. And while the bloom may have gone off the capitalist rose,  it remains our most effective tool for creating outcomes we all desire Рcomfort, wealth and security.

Carty feels advertisers have grown bored with selling, chasing more ethereal, complex measures of success instead. Driving impressions, creating engagement… everything but sales. This could be a direct outcome of an hourly billing structure, which tends to encourage adding non-essentials to justify more work. Or it could simply be the result of sales becoming disassociated from marketing – a trend that could put advertising agencies in serious jeopardy.

Either way, it’s a sad state of affairs. As Carty says “Our job is to get to the heart of what makes a product special and figure out how to sell that. It’s simple. And, I believe, endlessly exciting.”

NO TIME FOR TIMIDITY

Post-recession, consumers may have less money, but large companies and brands are sitting on unprecedented wealth. How do advertisers get them to unlock the war chest?

According to Carty, it isn’t by doing defensive, status quo work.¬† “We aren’t in the maintenance business – we’re in the creation business. But the creative modus operandi contradicts the status quo mandate of holding companies and shareholders. Risky, bold work is, by its nature, well, risky. Unfortunately, timidity has become the new normal. What client would pay vast sums of money for work that, at best, maintains market share?”

Consumer insights vs product stories

Carty bemoans the sameness of most advertising. While he does point the finger at the ‘status quo mentality’, he also sees another fundamental fault in the system – consumer insight driven research. “We’ve come to believe that ads should cater to consumer needs. This completely de-emphasizes the awesome stories products have to tell. I believe if you start by unearthing the magic of the product, then go to consumer, you create much more original, impactful advertising.”

the way forward

Carty’s agency Send+Receive was created to answer to rapidly shifting client priorities. “We haven’t seen the agency model fundamentally change in 50 years, despite the last half century being one of unprecedented change and innovation.”

Carty points out simple fixes like moving to an outcome-based fee as progress. He also emphasizes the importance of building an agency that’s small and nimble, without the burdens of network overhead inflating client costs.

Ultimately, it’s about getting to better results, faster. A mantra of modern capitalism. And, with any luck, a breath of fresh air for ad agencies.