In the field since 1988
Just ask the buffalo.
Adaptation isn’t always essential and extinction isn’t necessarily the outcome. But a distinction between thriving and surviving often becomes apparent.
West Advertising reached a point where the actions required to thrive became unpalatable and the concept of merely surviving is simply unacceptable. On August 31, 2022, we ceased normal client services. The business, as it had been for 34+ years, has ended.
Changes within our industry were never a challenge. To the contrary, they were enthusiastically embraced.
West was among the first to transition from traditional paste-up to computer graphics. We quickly transitioned, where appropriate, from broad-reach media channels to more targeted options, such as cable television and streaming audio. West built websites for clients well ahead of their competitors. Emerging media channels, such as email, digital ads, social media, and online review platforms were quickly adopted. And our agency developed services to leverage the evolution of Google, Facebook, YouTube, and other juggernauts of the digital world.
We flourished and so did our clients. Most importantly, we were proud of our work and had fun in the process of doing it. At the end of three decades of radical change within our environment, we were well-positioned for the next decade. As we surveyed the industry landscape, it was clear we were one of the very few agencies of our type to have successfully traversed the divide between traditional and digital forms of advertising, and could competently offer an array of services to our clients that spanned the spectrum. We had been there when “traditional” was all there was and we were there as “digital” emerged. Consequently, we felt we were there for our clients and we were there for the future.
Events external to our industry shifted our thinking. Specifically, mine.
For context, I had founded West as a one-person marketing consultancy. As such, West leveraged the services of talented providers within a range of disciplines to execute the plans developed with my clients. It became a sole proprietorship on January 1, 1988. There was no intention to build an agency.
I enjoyed the work and welcomed those who wanted to join me. Many of them were exceptional. We were fortunate enough to attract and retain superior clients and, as they succeeded, we succeeded. West Advertising became a partnership, and then a corporation.
As of March, 2020, we were a 19-person agency looking to immediately fill a vacant position. Twenty team members was our high-water mark and there was little desire to grow further; that simply wasn’t among my goals. But it was clear a few more “Westies” would be needed before the end of 2020. The ultimate goal was to form an ESOP and transfer ownership to the team. West was evolving.
We did, however, emerge invigorated from the COVID lockdown. During the depths of the pandemic, West invested heavily in new systems, technology, our office space infrastructure, and strategies to adapt to the instability of our clients’ markets. West had survived and was, once again, ready to thrive.
What I did not anticipate was how the changes in the labor force would impact our culture and the way I prefer to manage a team. Nor did I expect trends on the client-side to so rapidly accelerate during the upheavals of COVID and supply chain shortages. Constraints imposed upon our clients, outside of their control, placed severe limitations upon what we could do to serve them. Increasingly, we were acting at the direction of their suppliers and vendors, not as the result of strategic decisions we made with them as an extension of their management teams.
Privacy acts, ADA guidelines, and cyber security were unwelcome, but understandable, hurdles. The benefits were clear. By aggressively researching and meeting the requirements to comply simply put us in better position vis-a-vis agencies that couldn’t or wouldn’t do the same. But they were clear signals that our operating environment was changing.
In concept, I also see the benefits to remote work. In reality… it doesn’t work for me. As much as I tried to adjust, I have no desire to work in that world.
Additionally, the control gained by factories and suppliers in the aftermath of COVID put serious constraints on the services we provided to our clients, several of whom have been with us for 30+ years. As a result, West went from being a guiding force and faithful partner in the custodianship of their brands, to skilled executioners of directives from outside entities. In many cases, the creative campaigns are now coming from the agencies of factories and suppliers. And the digital services we provide are often directed by outside vendors, to the point where we felt we were providing mere “digital janitorial” services.
Over the years, we’ve experienced the loss of clients to acquisition by conglomerates. That trend essentially eliminated some categories of expertise: senior living, garden centers, and pharmaceuticals, to name three. Coming out of COVID, we could see the growing potential for the same happening to our remaining, primary category: retail automotive. The trend was toward “big”, not necessarily “better”.
Beyond these trends removing the satisfaction from our work, I anticipated severe constraints to the value we would be offering our clients in the future. And the concept of “managing” a team—some with whom I had worked side-by-side for over 25 years—via video calls and instant messaging was depriving the agency of that which had made is so special for so many years: people.
Blaming COVID would be a copout. It’s all just change. And sometimes you just have to let it happen. Without you.
Time to roam.</p
Founder / President / Enthusiast small business owner
Questions, comments, or inquiries?
I will forever be appreciative of my family for tolerating my passion for West and for those who had the faith to join it. This includes co-workers, clients, and vendors. And, of course, to that amazing buffalo herd into which I unwittingly drove back in 1984, far off-road in a trail-worn 1979 Jeep CJ-5; what an inspiring ride. Same for West Advertising.