A Detour on the Death March to Irrelevancy

When you think of great advertising communities both past and present, certainly a few places come to mind: San Francisco, New York, Minneapolis, Richmond, LA, Portland, etc. These are cities with robust creative communities and multiple agencies competing on the national stage with great work for great clients. These communities draw talent and clients like moths to flame.

Dallas isn’t one of them.

But it should be. In fact, it has all the raw ingredients to be a major industry player: multiple large, medium and small shops, a central location to draw business from both coasts, and the third highest number of Fortune 500 headquarters of any city in the country.

But instead of rising up and becoming the influential marketing force it should be, Dallas has become quite the opposite. A quick look over recent years at accounts leaving and going to other cities is telling: Amstel Light, Red Lobster, Nationwide Insurance, Bell Helicopter, American Airlines. Go back further and it gets worse: Corona Light, ExxonMobil, Hyundai, Nokia, Subaru and Texas Instruments.


That’s a lot of money, a lot of jobs and a lot of opportunity….gone.

Then you have the Fortune 500 companies based here, some with recent RFP’s, that have looked beyond their home city for their lead agency: Pizza Hut, JC Penney, AT&T, FedEx, Kimberly-Clark and Southwest Airlines to name a few.

Where are these clients going? To find better ideas from better agencies. Places like Droga5, Mother, Goodby Silverstein & Partners, the Martin Agency, McKinney, Pereira O’Dell, BBDO… and the list goes on.

So what the hell happened? Where did things go wrong?

Well, if everything is bigger in Texas, it certainly holds true for the giant freaking elephant in the room: The work in this town just isn’t good enough.

There, I said it (and looked squarely in the mirror as I did so).

If Dallas is going to pull out of this tailspin, stop losing clients and realize the incredible opportunity before us we to need start getting serious about our agency output. Clients aren’t stupid. If they see competitors getting bigger ideas, better strategies and stealing market share, they’ll ask their agency to step up. If the agency doesn’t, the company will eventually go to some place who will. 

Wouldn’t it be a whole lot easier if we never put clients in that position in the first place? We can. It’s called leadership. Let’s push ourselves to do great work that gets them noticed and moves them forward. Let’s find compelling reasons to sell that work based on strategy, value and business metrics. Clients (even conservative ones) will buy greatness if you give them a good enough reason. Let’s start playing to win instead of playing not to lose. Let’s take the words “good enough” out of our vocabulary. And let’s stop seeing the need for doing outstanding creative as a navel-gazing, ego stroking, departmental whine and see it for the agency-wide, life or death imperative that it is.

So how do we begin to fix it? It starts with agency culture. If we’re to be great the agencies here must be passionate and driven to creative excellence. We must be relentless in seeking out smart ideas regardless of the budget and we need the will to succeed based on our brains and our creativity. The other place I’d take a hard look at is personal responsibility. As individuals and professionals we need to take ownership of the problem and changing it begins with little decisions every day. Do I do what’s easy, or do I do what’s right? Do I go home at 5pm or do I stay a little later and push for another, better idea? Do I wait for an opportunity or do I create one? The truth of the matter is, frankly, if you don’t do bad work, bad work won’t get done.

These are the decisions and choices that agencies and creatives make all the time in the cities we admire. This is why those communities are seen as springboards for careers instead of landing pads. We need to start making these decisions here, too and hold each other accountable when we don’t.

Additionally, more agencies here need to have deeper involvement in the local agency community. Big agency, small agency…doesn’t matter. Let’s utilize the ad clubs and local events to help us raise our standards and expectations. Let’s push to make the annual Addy awards the most competitive competition it can be. Let’s help the local ad schools turn out talented and sought-after students. Lastly, let’s celebrate the people and places here that are doing it right and encourage others to emulate them.

Dallas is undoubtedly a great city, but right now, its ad community is on a long slow slide to mediocrity. With a bit of focus and a lot of energy we can turn that around and turn it into a great advertising city. We just need to tap into some of that inherently competitive Texan DNA and challenge each other to do better. The stakes are too high not to.