Whether you specialize in advertising, film, animation or comics, whether you do finished illustration, graphic design or concept art (or some combination of those specialties) you've probably noticed;
As an artist, educator and blogger I've developed friendships and affiliations with a lot of people all over the world in a huge variety of graphic arts industries. And from all over I've been hearing the same desperation-tinged question: "Where has all the work gone?"
We've been going through the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression so naturally one would expect business to be slow. For those of us who went through the '93 Recession ( and later, smaller downturns ), we know from experience what this feels like. You hunker down and stay hopeful and eventually things turn around.
Last week I sent an email to a long-time friend who does boards in Toronto asking how things were going. He wrote back, "What can I say? The ad biz is not like it used to be, that's for sure. Not a business I would recommend to anyone right now. You did well to get out when you did. It might turn around but it's hard to say when."
The question is, are things going to turn around this time?
If this article at fastcompany.com is correct then I think the answer is "no."
In her article, author Danielle Sacks describes the ad biz many of us have comfortably participated in for all the years of our careers:
"The ad business became an assembly line as predictable as Henry Ford's. The client (whose goal was to get the word out about a product) paid an agency's account executive (whose job was to lure the client and then keep him happy), who briefed the brand planner (whose research uncovered the big consumer insight), who briefed the media planner (who decided which channel -- radio, print, outdoor, direct mail, or TV -- to advertise in). Then the copywriter/art director team would pass on its work (a big idea typically represented by storyboards for a 30-second TV commercial) to the producer (who worked with a director and editors to film and edit the commercial). Thanks to the media buyer (whose job was to wine-and-dine media companies to lower the price of TV spots, print pages, or radio slots), the ad would get funneled, like relatively fresh sausage, into some combination of those five mass media, which were anything but equal. TV ruled the world. After all, it not only reached a mass audience but was also the most expensive medium -- and the more the client spent, the more money the ad agency made."
Then Sacks described how dramatically things have changed:
"That was then. Over the past few years, because of a combination of Internet disintermediation, recession, and corporate blindness, the assembly line has been obliterated -- economically, organizationally, and culturally. In the ad business, the relatively good life of 2007 is as remote as the whiskey highs of 1962."
Sacks continues, "The death of mass marketing means the end of lazy marketing. At agencies, the new norm is doing exponentially complex work. Think of the 200 Old Spice YouTube videos whipped up by Wieden+Kennedy in 48 hours. "Creating more work for less money is the big paradox," says Matt Howell, president of the Boston agency Modernista."
And further (and perhaps most importantly for us), "Squeezed by clients, agencies are also beset by a host of new competitors attacking from every direction. Technology companies have commoditized much of the "art" of that old assembly line. Producing an ad doesn't have to be an expensive multiperson affair these days, given that commercial-quality high-definition video can now be shot on cameras that cost less than $2,000."
If you're a storyboard artist, look at the new face of the ad industry as described in Sacks' article and ask yourself if the $100 - $200 per frame you're used to getting for your work fits this 21st century ad budget:
"GeniusRocket is what an ad agency looks like when it's stripped of Madison Avenue skyscrapers, high-priced creatives on payroll, sushi dinners at Nobu, and two-week shoots at the Viceroy in Santa Monica. The firm is nothing more than a bare-bones website that crowdsources broadcast-ready TV ads from a pool of loosely vetted talent from Poland to Guam. A CMO accustomed to handing over millions of dollars to an agency for a campaign designed around a single spot can now hand GeniusRocket $40,000 -- and get seven spots, each of which will be syndicated on 20 web platforms for tracking, testing, sentiment analysis, and wide distribution."
Sacks quotes Aaron Reitkopf, North American CEO of digital agency Profero, and writes, "There's only one thing everyone agrees on, and that's that there is too much excess: too many people, too many of the wrong kinds of people, too much bloat, too much inefficiency. And this in an industry that has laid off more than 160,000 people in the past two years. "Ohhhh," nods Reitkopf, "the carnage is going to be awesome."
One thing I'm sure of is that that as dire as things seem to be, creatives like us are now and will always be relevant. There is and will always be opportunity for those who are talented and determined and most importantly flexible and innovative. I think communities like ours are a valuable asset to all who participate in them - in any capacity.
I've got a lot more to say on this subject but I'm curious to hear from you, the members and readers of Storyboard Central. What has your experience been over the last couple of years? How are you dealing with the downturn in the market? I hope you'll comment. Share your thoughts, advice and experience with us! :^)
* I encourage you to read Danielle Sacks' entire article, The Future of Advertising at fastcompany.com
* The images used in this post are my rough concept sketches and finished art for a 2009 article in Profit magazine.