Laurence Green: Look after your core

Laurence Green: Look after your core
Opinion: Strategy Leaders

In his final regular column for The Media Leader, Laurence Green recommends eschewing neophilia for greater care toward what is at the heart of media and marketing.

This is my last column for The Media Leader in a personal capacity, and so at least it enjoys scarcity value. I take up a new role as director of effectiveness at the IPA this month, and am (happily) obliged to trade opinion for peer-reviewed evidence as the basis for any future contribution. The trade-off seems fair, and arguably indisputable, at least for those of us who prefer to underscore our opinions with evidence.

I’m grateful nonetheless to Omar Oakes and his team for an 18-month tour of duty looking at the advertising world through the prism of media. After 30 years in creative agencies — now largely starved of media smarts — it’s an overdue correction for me and, I hope, others.

Reflecting on the issues I have raised and reported on across that relatively short timespan, I find, unsurprisingly, various red threads:

The importance of the long view (for businesses and advertisers alike) in a world that is collapsing ever shorter.

Of quality in an advertising market swamped by quantity.

Of brand in a world of sales.

All beliefs that I cling to — at the same time as welcoming challenge, without which there is no progress — but which, thanks to The Media Leader, I have enjoyed the freedom to report on with reference to Wim Wenders, stalagmites, The Kinks and the twin-speed gearbox.

It would be surprising, therefore (if not something of a strategic volte face), if my final column broke rank and shared my giddy excitement about AI or Threads.

Au contraire.

Touting core in a world of more

A year of consulting has granted me an audience with businesses ranging from some of the smallest (indeed, pre-revenue) D2C advertisers to some of the largest clients in our firmament (McDonalds, Lloyds Banking Group, Sainsburys and Boots; thank you, Thinkbox).

After each, I have found myself repeating the words of my personal trainer, recruited on my behalf by my wife after a brief chase prompted by his hi-viz, advertising-emblazoned jacket (he was on a bike, I was on foot):

“Look after your core.”

As a game runner of half marathons and the odd whole one, I have always understood this advice but failed to follow through in terms of my exercise regime. And then my PT suggested we take up boxing… and the advice became not just more obvious but more urgent.

In advertising’s perpetual climate of neophilia, I commend Rob’s advice.

Agencies: look after your core. The clients that drive your P&L, that can be grown further still, that will be imperilled by your new business drive. The reputation-builders that shape your brand. The talent that you dread losing to competitors.

Brand-owners: look after your core. The customers that keep coming back, the media that does the heavy lifting, the truths that endure. “There will be spin-offs and extensions but there must be a quality that allows the original to last: sweet fizz for Coca-Cola, male grooming for Gillette and female aspiration for [Barbie],” as the Financial Times’ John Gapper put it recently.

Yes, your core must of course encompass “future core”. That, in itself, is a precious conversation. But do not be distracted from this by what Mark Ritson has called the “pornography of change”.

I make no apology for touting core in a world of more. Less so for craving “better”: relationships, work, outcomes, measurement. I’m alive to the new but no subscriber to scorched earth theory and the notion that any thing (in media) changes everything (in marketing).

Personal trainers vouch for a strong core as a source of stability, and it’s as true for corporate bodies as it is for human ones. In unstable and distracting times, it demands your attention.

Laurence Green is one of the UK’s most renowned advertising strategists and creative leaders. He was co-founder of the agencies Fallon London and 101. He is now an independent adviser to creative businesses and director of effectiveness at the IPA. You can read his previous columns here.

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