Mike Wilson, Australia and NZ chairman at Naked Communications, share the challenges facing adland in 2013
Who do we think we are?
Shane, 24, is one of the new breed of communication strategy creatives at one of Australia’s hottest digital creative media shops. A whiz kid in all things digital, he epitomizes the 21st century professional. Despite his broad professional skills and commitments, he still finds time to indulge his passions, especially his late-night stints DJ-ing (Balearic-Asian electronica being the genre du jour).
So far, so hipster. But dig a little deeper, and it seems as if Shane might be suffering a bit of a personality crisis. Spend an hour or two in his company and it soon becomes apparent that there exists a sense of personal displacement, indeed a detachment from his forbears in the industry, his professional ancestors.
Shane certainly seems aware of what came before, of the industry giants who for decades strode tall in the hallowed halls of advertising agencies, and also their perennially immature offspring, the media agencies. Yet, while forever admiring the mythology, it seems as if somehow Shane and many others like him have somehow been left to fend for themselves, alone to make sense of a new, complicated world.
We spent some time with Shane, had a look through some old documents and footage, and took him back in an attempt to understand his antecedents. Perhaps by doing this he would come to better understand who he was, and begin to feel more confident in his own agency role in 2013.
We start in London, where the boss of Shane’s agency, Timothy Knut, had a great career in the 80’s and 90’s – according to Tim Knut, that is. Much to Shane’s amusement we leaf through some old newspaper cuttings, (“I don’t know anyone who’s ever bought a newspaper”, he chuckles) featuring pictures of Knut looking, it must be said, bleary-eyed and in various states of inebriation. “Tim always tells me that ‘it’s all about the clients’, and that we have to do whatever we can to sell the shit that we make’.
Tim, it transpires, was a very junior account manager in London, but on arrival in Australia had managed to convince the industry that he was in fact an internationally-lauded creative. (Which proves, we suppose, just how creative he was). More Knut wisdom engrained into Shane was that ‘our job is always to be the client’s right hand man; we must live and breathe the client’s brands and products, even if it is fucking cat food’. Inspirational stuff. But not especially useful for Shane who spends most of his time designing mobile apps, when he is not organizing SEO props, or managing Facebook fan communities.
We pass on to another of Shane’s influences, Fat Jimmy Fingers, renowned in his time as one of the toughest media negotiators in town. London Town. Because, uncannily, it seems that his agency’s MD is also a Pom. "They’re nice enough,” Shane says, “but they always think they know better, the twats. Just one day, I’d like a good Aussie boss; after all we’ve produced the most influential media people in the world, like Rupert Murdoch and Julian Assange. And I’m fed up in the office hearing about the sodding Champions League, when the NRL Finals are on. Don’t they understand?”
Shane still thinks he’s learnt a lot from Fat Jimmy. "He’s great. He’s always talking about how important it is to get ‘wankered’ with clients just like he used to. Or ‘pissed’. Or ‘mullered’. One day, I’d really like to be able to do that myself a bit, but at the moment I’m always in the office till 11pm checking confirmations, or sorting out account queries. It’s ok though, as we are allowed to share a free pizza between the 10 of us stuck back in the agency every night."
However, Fat Jimmy has also shared some cutting-edge wisdom, which Shane thinks will really help him as his career progresses. “Yeah. Jimmy says that ‘data is the new black’ apparently, and that in the last five minutes there has been more data points uploaded into the Google, than all the chicken tikka masalas that Fat Jimmy has ever eaten. Ever! Amazing!” I press the point ” but what does ‘data is the new black actually mean?”, I ask. “I dunno,” Shane replies,” and nor does Jimmy, but he says it’s really important that we use all the words that are ‘buzzy’ at the time, and apparently ‘data’ is one of those words. And ‘blameification’ ”.
He says that his agency won $20m in new billings this year on the back of that particular piece of ‘buzzy’. (*Fat Jimmy was unavailable to be interviewed for this feature after he sadly died of a heart attack last week late at night outside a kebab shop in Maroubra).
Shane is happy for now, it seems, to go with the flow. ‘Ad agencies were all about being ‘creative’, it seems to me’, he says, ‘but now they’ve gone all data-driven and analytical. And media companies used to be all about the data, but now are meant to be film-makers too. Except there is no film anymore. It’s all a bit weird’
And so what of Shane? Is he destined to be creative, analytic, a negotiator, a digital ground-breaker? A look into the distant gaze in his eyes suggests that he doesn’t yet know the answer to this question. ‘Let’s go to the pub’, he says, ‘I’ve got this really cool app I want to show you’.
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