Ad Talent Shining, Accessible

March 10, 2008
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The Ad Club of West Michigan hosted its week-long celebration of all things advertising last week, with the annual Addy Awards gala as the centerpiece (see story, page 3).

According to event organizers, the vision behind the AD Fair was to put a focus on the world-class advertising and design industry found in West Michigan, to call attention to the depth and breadth of that industry in this region and its economic impact. The point to be made is the economic breadth the industry could harness in this area if more companies chose to keep their advertising agency work local.

Long-term recruitment and retention of a young, creative class of employee and citizen in West Michigan is every employer’s worry. The advertising industry, in particular, offers significant opportunities for young workers holding these skill sets. Without such employment offerings — and an opportunity to build careers — creative individuals will go elsewhere to pursue their trade, in most cases never to return. That takes dollars away from this community and leaves a void in future generations of contributing citizens and leaders.

Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell noted the cherished quality of the trade when he issued a proclamation recognizing Ad Fair Week here. “… Advertising, design, media and related industries attract and retain young, creative and talented people who invigorate our community and push the envelope of innovation, both vital to our future economic growth,” stated Heartwell in the proclamation.

“I call upon all citizens to join me in recognizing the positive economic and cultural value that advertising, design, media and related industries impart on our community, our businesses and our lives.”

Clare Wade, Ad Club vice president, commented leading up to the events that the idea came about as a way to provide more value for the club’s 150 members, from north of Grand Rapids to South Haven.

“We thought it would be a great idea for West Michigan, to make sure people are aware of the terrific creative community we have,” Wade said. “I think it’s an opportunity for business to increase for ad agencies and design firms, as well as for businesses in West Michigan who work with them.”

Local experts in advertising and branding gathered last week at the Kent Country Club to talk about business-to-consumer and business-to-business strategy, interactive and digital marketing, and the agency-client relationship.

The discussion no doubt reaffirmed the reality that the local talent base is well ahead of the curve on many industry trends. Just recently, presidential candidates were found using localized Web video ads to spread their gospel along the election trail. Business Journal reporter Elizabeth Slowik documented in a story last month that local digital marketing efforts have been escalating for some time. John Sawyer, chief strategy officer for Grand Rapids’ Grey Matter Group, said nearly all of that firm’s clients are moving more of their marketing resources to digital marketing. “That’s definitely a trend that other advertising agencies are experiencing, as well.”

Coalition building and partnerships also are a breakthrough method of generating business. Collaboration was a dirty word in the competitive industry not too long ago, but one needs to look no further than the formation of Gravity Six, a coalition of six West Michigan advertising and design firms that is already contributing its joint marketing prowess to generate business for the local ad world.

It’s a mature industry with a forward-thinking approach. It has no choice. As new contributors to business continue to evolve, many companies such as Lawrence Productions Inc. continue to adapt to changing market niches decades after their formation.

There’s grand opportunity for the market to keep growing in West Michigan, but it will take more than a week-long celebration to continue to garner the local talent base the respect it deserves on the global stage.

The way to keep talent in West Michigan is to assure the talent is gainfully employed — by local businesses purchasing from local businesses.

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