Mary Meeker Annouces the Start of World War I (originally published 3 August 2014)

Last week Mary Meeker of Kliener Perkins Caufield Beyers (KPCB) gave that company's yearly overview of internet, and really all, media usage. (No, she didn't announce World War I, bear with me, and I will talk about why I used the title below). The presentation covered media usage habits and at one point she mentioned that marketing and advertising companies have not figured out how to take advantage of cross channel usage yet and brands and sales were currently not at levels they should be because of this.

I think I know why, or a big reason why.

This announcement comes at the 100 year anniversary of World War I. 100 years ago, this week in fact, the early combatants of the "War to End All Wars" had started mobilizing their armies and via calling on defensive pacts and the doctrine of Balance of Power within a few months most of Western Europe and a good part of the Middle East would be in the midst of war that went on longer than anyone foresaw, wanted or hoped and that would see at least 9 million dead.

I have been fascinated by WWI for a number of reasons, but particularly for what I see as an analog to our business. Simply put, much like WWI, I think technology has overwhelmed our tactics and our institutional constructs to handle it.

Let me demonstrate my point. Military leaders in 1914 appreciated the devastating effect of machine guns but they hadn't really hadn't come up with a way to solve for the fact that men couldn't march fast enough to not all get killed before they reached the enemy trenches.

Equally the leaders couldn't figure how to bring the doctrine of combined forces to bear as largely cavalry had been made obsolete by the rifle and certainly by the machine gun (something that had started by the American Civil War some 50 years earlier).

The doctrine of combined forces is a sort of "rock, paper, scissors" concept. If one of your elements was stymied by say the enemy's "rock" your "paper" was close at hand to change the balance of the battle and break the stalemate.

I'm not alone in saying that the carnage of WWI was largely due to a lack of imagination on how to bring the doctrine of combined forces to bear. The leaders wholly and willfully overlooked the nascent technology of air power and armored vehicles. They were dragged into the future by a pockets of visionaries only after the loss of millions of lives and the destruction of the world order, national and country boundaries and much else.

So what do these have to do with each other? It seems to me that we are this same sort of paradigm change in our industry. Most of our agencies are built to provide a means of production. Creative production, media plans, public relations releases. In fact most of the fees agencies receive is for "back office" trafficking, production and moving of "creative elements" or managing of budgeting and billing.

The simple fact is that this isn't really required any more. A recent grad with Abode Premier can shot a "commercial". There are now online media management systems that can do the same thing the multi-million dollar enterprise software programs can do, our very measurement systems have for a long time seemed from another era. I mean a "GRP", really? What is a rating point in our current era anyway?

Agencies continue to silo themselves by means of production, and are not bringing "combined arms" to bear. This is in-and-of-itself a problem, but the bigger problem is that large clients continue to allow this. Just last week a major agency win was announced as a "consolidation" with Ogilvy doing creative, Digitas doing "digital" and content and Starcom doing media.

No wonder we can't get to cross channel campaigns, with "consolidation" like this it is little wonder how that company gets to a campaign much less one that crosses channels and is really effective -- just setting up the status meetings is going to take two weeks.

To me it all sounds like more huddling in a muddy trench, waiting out the artillery bombardment and listening for the command that will send us "over the top" hoping that we can run across No Man's Land faster than the enemy can reload his machine gun at the end of which most of our colleagues and friends will be gone and the only thing we will have to show for is that the general can claim he moved his drink's cabinet 200 yards closer to the enemy capital.

It's time for something more asymmetric, less siloed and certainly less ponderous.

Recently I parted ways with the agency I was at and started a new media and strategy company affiliated with production companies, creatives, web designers and so on. The best of them who came to the same conclusion as I, get out of the agency.

We come together on projects as needed and then go our separate ways when the project is done. It's faster, it's smarter (because all channels are integrated from the start), and it costs the client a whole lot less and we make more money because we don't have to ship our money out to some holding company.

Have we been hired by the likes of P&G?

Well, no, we haven't.

But then again if it was 1914 and I told the generals and politicians that we would win the war via a combined arms attack including airplanes, tanks, artillery, infantry; each of which would be brought to battle based upon the changing circumstances on the field, and we would get the job done with a whole lot less people and whole lot loss of life...well... they would have thought I was crazy too.