Advertising. It’s not what it used to be.

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So there I was the other night, enjoying a cocktail with a friend while our wives talked about the kids, or something like that.

The conversation, as unfortunately and usually does, turned to our professions.  We chatted about his work in investment banking and bond trading.  It was extremely interesting, but I really have no idea what he was saying and still don’t know to this point.

Then we talked about my work in advertising.

Advertising is fascinating, right? You know, funny television commercials, million-dollar media buys, celebrities and three-martini lunches. We think everybody knows what we do and how we work. We started talking about a hospital system that’s a client. I started talking about the research we just analyzed, how the system was just acquired by another larger system, and how this would impact the delivery of their service and alter the competitive landscape in the market.

He was confused.

He asked, “Why do you know all about that? I thought you just advertised for them?” And this prompted the reason for this posting: Most people, even potential clients, have no idea what an advertising agency actually does.


There were the days of concept pitching and television production in distant tropical locales. That ship has sailed. Now there is quantitative research, ROI calculations, cloud-based marketing automation systems and Net Promoter Scores.

Sure, we still produce television commercials.  And we still occasionally drink at lunch. But we now learn more about our client’s industries, competitors, products and services than many of the people that actually work for our clients.  It’s what we get paid to do.  And we know it’s crucial to delivering the insightful, un-thought-of, non-traditional solutions that will accomplish the goals that will get our contract renewed (oh, and make our clients successful, too.)

Along the path to client information discovery (which is usually the strategy or planning function), we discover the alternative means by which we can affect change on the client’s business goals.  It might not be traditional advertising.  Heck, often times these days, it’s NOT traditional advertising. It could be tradeshow support, industry attitude campaigns, digital content development or even standing-on-a-street-corner-twirling-a-sign.

We will now even identify areas of a client’s business environment that could be altered to help smooth the process of revenue generation. This used to be the function of business consultants. But now it falls under our catch-all of marketing services.

The good news is we’ve become even more valuable to our clients.  They can get more mileage from marketing if they allow us to truly ask the tough questions, and bring back unexpected solutions. The bad news is, our conversational ability at parties just took a big hit…