A bit of history is a good thing

I’ve often thought having some understanding of past events/people/trends is a good thing for people entering the marketing and advertising space as a career. If someone was studying architecture they would need to learn about its origins and history whereas 99% of people I meet entering marketing and advertising have zippo knowledge of the past and little interest in going there. I always get the feeling new people think as though the world started sometime in their mid teens.

The question of course is does this matter?

The focus of any role in business related to the marketing of products and services is naturally about the future; how do we sell more, make more profit, etc., whether it is next week or next year? Therefore foresight is a valuable asset hence the f0rward view rather than the past. So arguably having a rear view mirror isn’t necessarily an important part of the business tool box.

One of the roles I play is as a visiting lecturer at Westminster University Business School where I run seminars for 1st year students on a BA Hons Business Management course. They are in the 18-20 age group so their natural memory range on day to day issues is around 5 years or so, prior to that they were in their own world of school, friends, families, etc. What is crystal clear and again obvious is their knowledge about worldly issues is very limited based on time. So random questions such as ‘when did easyJet start as an airline?’ is met with blank stares. They would have been all about 5 years old so why would they know unless they happen to have a geeky hobby about airlines?

In my opinion something like the emergence of low cost airlines does have a relevance today and tomorrow as this market change has been massively influencial on the airline industry structure, traditional labour practices, the economics of the industry, as well as having a signficiant impact on the public at large by opening up travel to more and more people. In the case of easyJet I would suspect they will continue to evolve as the market around them changes, and they continue to build their brand across all the markets they operate in and out of.  So in this case knowledge of the past is relevant and could have pointers about the future. This would be  a classic text book example of business planning on the basis of “where were we, where are we now and where are we going?”.

On the residential IPA Account Management courses in the past one question I have posed to the delegates has been about the origins of the commission system the industry had stuck to for around 100 years until the split of creative from media that began in the ’80’s. Not one person has ever been able to answer the question which I have found quite astonishing given it has been the currency of payment for advertising agencies for a very long time.

I don’t have any magic answer to the question. Maybe the IPA should run a ‘History of Advertising’ short course for new entrants paid for by the agencies taking on graduates. I’m sure it’s a bit of education that would be at least interesting and on a good day valuable.

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