media update’s Adam Wakefield was at the packed Community Centre in Craighall Park on Friday, 21 April, at the latest Creative Mornings Johannesburg chapter event to hear what Woolf had to say.

Woolf, who has worked in advertising for 20 years, began her talk by detailing her journey as an advertising professional, the studying she had undertaken, and the lessons she had learnt along the way.

One of the most profound lessons that left a lasting impression on Woolf was how the change in the marketing environment, over the last 20 years, represented a wave. She says there are three choices when faced with it. The first is watching it, the second is riding it, and the third, if you are brave enough, is create it.

“These were three incredibly powerful thoughts which led me to think more and more how to deal with change,” Woolf said.

Ad agencies must work on themselves, not just on clients

Wolf wanted to understand how those who successfully market and innovate for others do so for themselves. Woolf said it is a paradoxical part of the human condition, where expertise or knowledge that are held dear are used for the benefit of others, but those using it do not realise they need it the most.

Woolf delved deeper into how this phenomenon played out in South Africa’s advertising industry. She chose South Africa as the base of her study because the structure of its advertising industry and the work it produces, punching above its weight, are a microcosm representative of the global industry.

The key finding was that agencies see themselves as “cobbler’s children with no shoes”.

“We obsess more about our clients than we do about our client’s end customer,” Woolf said.

Agencies did so much work for others that they did very little of it for themselves. Agencies gave low priority to innovation in their own business, compared to the innovation they gave to their clients.

Indicative of this situation is what South African agencies spent on marketing. The global agency average is between 10% and 11%, but,  in South Africa, agencies spend less than 2% of total spend on marketing.

Only 20% of agencies employed a person responsible for marketing, and only half of those had a background in public relations, advertising, or marketing.

“The one thing that all agencies were clear on: They all agreed that they wanted to do more, more often, and be better at it. There was an overall sense of frustration,” Woolf said.

The main reason why this is not happening is due to there not being enough time, money, or resources, which, according to Woolf, is actually a proxy for prioritisation.

Creative output is not always enough

“The other thing from creative industries is our work is our marketing. The idea of creative people is that marketing is institutional bureaucracy and creative output is all you need,” Woolf said.

Creative output and creative work are important, but it is not always enough.

“Ego works in that we hold onto what we do so dearly, because we are too afraid to let it out, so we tend to do too little or we tend to do way too much, think we’re too fantastic or too special. The ad industry likes to be a clown at their own circus,” Woolf said.

Leadership in advertising and taking charge 

There is a view that enthusiasm for marketing innovation is dependent on leadership, with Woolf identifying three types of leaders in the industry: marketing warriors, culture creators and dynamic disrupters.
  • Marketing warriors: Extroverts who have an understanding or academic background in marketing;. 
  • Culture creators: They often fall into the business or come directly from the creative arts; and 
  • Dynamic disrupters: Businesspersons in creative industries who want to make money and a big difference.
However, according to Woolf, change lies with the individual themselves.

“Know yourself. Know who you are. If you can identify your blind spot and use insight to motivate action by learning more than you know, learning by practising, or getting help, you have the opportunity to lead creatively, and be more present in your creative endeavours,” Woolf said.

“Motivate yourself to go beyond, to recalibrate your own endeavours, and recalibrate your own business. You are the leader you’ve been looking for.”

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