By Rick Gardinier3/31/2020

20 Years Later and the Greatest Challenge Yet

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Twenty years ago this month I joined Brunner.  In fact, it was then I jumped in to join the advertising industry.  It was an exciting time for me – moving from the world of technology consulting into the glitzy ad world. I remember attending the local Addy awards as one of my first industry events…our agency and the entire industry were buzzing and on a high.

That excitement lasted exactly…two weeks.

March of 2000 marked the Dotcom Bust. Tech and internet-based companies shuttered and many of my industry peers lost their jobs in mass layoffs. Almost every company pulled their budgets out of website and e-commerce development and the online advertising industry almost dried up completely. It’s hard to fathom but some companies even questioned whether they should even HAVE an internet presence at all! A few months into my shiny new position, we were actually having conversations about whether we should shut down our digital offering.

Thankfully, we had the fortitude to keep going. We believed yes, the internet was here to stay.  That might seem obvious today – but back then it wasn’t so clear! We got creative with staffing and product offerings. We worked hard to make sure we stayed ahead of the digital curve…ensuring we were able to offer our clients value when the tide turned. Which it did.

Not much more than one year later, just as we were climbing out of the dotcom recession, something happened that affected all of us in a much more profound, far-reaching way – the September 11 terrorist attacks. I will forever link it to working in the advertising industry because my middle daughter was one week old. The September 11 attack happened on the day that I returned to work after she was born. Like many, I questioned everything. The meaning of life. The value that my career choice was bringing to society. Whether this latest tragic event would kill the advertising industry as we knew it.

The attacks created great financial hardship. The financial markets were melting down. People across the country were afraid for their lives. Some employees were afraid to come into our brand-new office. Sound familiar? Yet, somehow the world slowly started to get back to normal.

Through the years the industry, and our agency, suffered highs and lows. Certainly, the financial crisis of twelve years ago left most agencies scrambling. Many had layoffs in order to stay viable.   But at the same time, new agency models started to surface. And old-line agency models evolved.  Agencies emerged with digital at their core. Others started to take advantage of social networks, crowdsourcing, and mobile-first approaches.

No one envisioned the current Covid-19 crisis. Certainly, I couldn’t have envisioned celebrating my 20th year in the business by working from home and wondering about the future for both myself and the industry I’ve grown to love. But I keep telling myself we’ve been here before.  We will adapt, evolve, innovate.

I’m already seeing positive things – just weeks into our WFH journey. Managers who were unsure about finding suitable WFH options are suddenly embracing the new normal. Ironically, being apart means we need to work HARDER at collaboration and that will pay off in the long run. Others who didn’t feel ready for online tools like Slack and video meetings on-demand, are now those who are jumping in with both feet to learn newer ways to work.

The world may not look the same when we get to the other side. Most certainly our agency, and our industry, will look different. But if the past twenty years has taught me anything it’s that we will figure out a way. We will emerge stronger.  We have employees at our agency who just started with us, for some this is their first job and others still have been by our sides for years. Regardless of where they are on their path, I hope 20 years from now they can look back at having a successful, long career in this industry and realize this moment in time is what spurred them to innovate, create, and evolve as professionals, and perhaps more importantly, as people.