Did you know that advertising is the second-oldest profession in the world? It's a little known fact, but if you follow the money, as they typically say on reruns of "Law & Order," you'd guess the folks engaged in the oldest profession in the world had to advertise to find clients, right?
Seriously, though, advertising has been around a long time. According to sources like Wikipedia, advertising has been traced all the way back to ancient Egypt, Pompeii and ancient Arabian civilizations. The concept of promoting a service to people who need it is as old as anything else in the world -- but the last 15 years have witnessed more change in the business than possibly anytime in history.
The advent of the data age -- or, as I've referred to it previously, the "Money Ball era" of marketing -- has brought more accountability and addressability to advertising, and the next ten years are only going to get more complicated.
These days the business of buying media is work-intensive, and complex. The "Mad Men" days were heavy on creative, light on research, and media was a secondary consideration. In the data age, media runs the discussion, with creative being important but no longer driving the car. The cat's out of the bag, and it's going to be hard to regress to the old days anytime soon.
TV is headed in this direction too, as the next four to six months will likely see some very innovative announcements coming from the likes of cable operators as they unveil some of what they've been working on over the last 5 years. Data is the name of the game, and interaction will be the way the game is measured! Social media is driving the cross-promotion of all media vehicles, and it's even headed cross-platform as TV integrates social activity into the equation.
So what does that mean for you as you continue to evaluate your career and plan for your own future? First off, it means you cannot be afraid of data; you're going to need to become fluent in data analytics. Buying media used to be a combination of experience, syndicated research and relationships. In the next two to three years, the focus will shift even more heavily to a direct-response model of test, run, repeat. In this model, your data dashboard will become even more important as it tells you what to do and where to do it. Even the account and creative parts of the business need to become more fluent in data, because they can no longer hide their heads in the sand when the reports come out!
The second consideration is, you're going to have to be functionally cross-platform. The era of the digital media buyer as a stand-alone, at least in its current incarnation, is going away. "Digital" media buyers are going to have to learn about the new ways to buy TV and TV buyers are going to have to finally embrace digital. The two are becoming quickly intertwined, and your value as an advertising professional will depend on your ability to talk effectively about both paths.
Your career value in advertising is going to depend heavily on your understanding of the technology behind media buying on both sides of the fence and the analytics of the data in front of you. You will have to understand econometric modeling, be fluent in sifting through the clutter to focus on the core data that will provide actionable insights for your campaigns, and apply that thinking to both online and TV. If I were starting over today, I'd go back and make sure I was fresh on my traditional TV-buying terminology, and I'd review economics and statistics. I would recommend diving into the developments of companies like Canoe Ventures, and I would spend lots of time with companies like Omniture and DaTran Media to find out what their plans are for the future.
If you start your way in the business on the agency side, make sure you get a crash course in both online and offline customer research -- and spend time with the analytics department before you head over to media, because the alignment of these multiple paths of thought are going to be invaluable for your career.
It's an exciting time to be in advertising, especially while it's still legal in all 50 states.