VOICES: Azim Alibhai-Look for the Characters
Posted by Jordan Finlayson on May 24th, 2012
The character is missing from the Canadian agency world.
When I say this, I don’t mean the collective character of the industry, rather, I am referring to people, the individual characters – the crazies, the outliers, the game changers, the visionaries, those folks who drive exponential growth, not incremental growth, by building with a vision, where have they all gone?
Yes, the world we operate in now is different and you must have heard it ad nausem by now, that this is the most exciting time to be in advertising (marketing really but advertising is just more sexy). But if it is such an exciting time, why are agencies still swimming in a red ocean, where traditional shops claim social and digital expertise and digital shops are building traditional departments? In the end, it’s the same old same old, channel planning instead of strategy planning and all the characters sound the same because, well, they just about all do the same thing. So where I ask are the characters?
I joined the industry in the late 90’s and let me tell you, we had some special people in the industry back then. Yes, good special, interesting special and then just down right super special – you know, the kind that you just shake your head at, because, you couldn’t even create a character within this breed of special, even if you tried to. Yes we had all kinds. What was great about being surrounded by all these characters was that it was easy to learn, just by observation. Business strategy seemed to be at the heart of it all and you would learn what to do, and equally important, what not to do, to get ahead in the industry. There was so much knowledge to be had that just sitting in meetings, without saying a word, partaking in strategy osmosis would have the same brain numbing effect as sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia. Of course, it was also a period marred by its own issues like Enron and the dot com crash , but there were characters all round you. The early part of my career was not unlike what Charles Dickens described before introducing his characters in A Tale of Two Cities:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us… in short, the period was so far like the present period…”
Part of the reason, I believe, that the early part of my career was a period of personal enlightenment was because internet ubiquity was not yet a part of everyday life. Now stick with me on this because I know that this may seem counter intuitive but not being able to Google or look something up on Wikipedia meant that you actually learnt more because you had to listen to the characters that I was just lamenting over. Those special characters, whose credibility was earned from the experiences of building and shaping an industry, not from a Klout score or the number of twitter followers and facebook fans they have (Attention clients: this is why success should not be measured only by likes, follows, fans etc) taught me some real life lessons. The sad state of affairs today is that a reputation can be built online even if one does not have the real life experiences and chops to back up that reputation.
So as an ode to the by gone days, to the characters that helped shape our industry, in upcoming posts, I will share some of the timeless stories and lessons I learnt during a time when reputation was earned by doing and delivering and business strategy was king. In the mean time, start keeping an eye out for the characters that you can learn from. Hint: Characters aren’t just the one’s who shape and build industries; they can be anyone. I learnt a lot from the awesome characters who worked the mailroom at Ogilvy and Mather…
If you’re interested in Azim and his work, please follow him on Twitter @AzimAlibhai
You can also find Azim at the Mediagenic Homepage.