Blog: Jeff Meyers

For the 100th issue, Metromode managing editor Jeff Meyers has stepped out from behind the virtual curtain, where he's monitored Metro Detroit's new economy, to share some of his ideas for making SE Michigan better still. Agree or disagree, he hopes you'll weigh in with a few suggestions of your own. Or at least wish him a happy 100th.

Jeff Meyers - Post 2: What if local ad agencies started a WPA-like movement?

With Obama taking the reigns of our brutally hobbled nation there's been a whole lot of discussion about public works. Finally, after decades of unconscionable neglect, people are talking about shoring up infrastructure, investing in communities, and laying the foundation for a more solid future. It's about damn time. And it's not enough.

This past December I attended the D Show. It's an awards get-together put on by Metro Detroit's advertising community in celebration of their creativity and craft. I was asked to be one of the judges for the "Joe" Award, which gave me a front row seat to what the industry considers their best work. It was impressive. Funny, moving, ironic, sentimental, inspiring, the commercials knew how to press the right buttons to get an emotional response. This year's D-Show was a more modest affair than last. Behind the jokes and shmoozing and drinking and self-congradulations there was an obvious anxiety about the failing economy, the seismic discord at the car companies and inevitable decisions that would have to be made about employment.

Though the instinct to stuff cash beneath the metaphorical mattress must be strong, I have a modest proposal for our local ad agencies, big and small: Invest.

Invest in Metro Detroit. Invest our region with your creativity and brand savvy and knock 'em dead design prowess. Put together a public works project that helps our region rethink its identity, improve its image, serve its residents and put its best face forward. It won't retrain tens of thousands of laid off workers or bring mass transit to our urban cores or move us toward greater sustainability. But it's a gesture that makes clear that southeast Michigan is serious about becoming a knowledge-based economy. That we take our image seriously.

Look, there are only a handful of places on the planet with billion dollar ad agencies. I'm not saying they are billionaires. I'm saying they handle billions in ad market dollars. Assign some of your world class talent to help our community. Handle us with the same level of attention, care, professionalism and creativity as Ford, Microsoft, Budweiser or Target. After all, if local ad agencies can't or won't look after how their own community presents itself to the world, what does that say about their ability to look after their clients?

If each agency adopted an individual Metro Detroit city for a year, guided their branding efforts, redesigned their websites (for usability not gimmicky wows), and helped the Detroit area put its best face forward to the citizens who lived here, the results would be impressive. I'm not talking about some slick stab at selling Metro Detroit to tourists. I'm talking about a nuts and bolts, core competency approach. Something that gets every community in the Metro region in sync, up-to-date and professional.

I know it's not sexy or hip or attention-getting but neither are power gridss, roads and rail lines. They are, however, necessary. And doing them well affects the quality of life of the people that use them every day.

IMG's publisher Paul Schutt recently told me how a few years back Chrysler Financial had donated 300 of their employees' time to clean up Detroit's Corktown neighborhood. All day long financial professionals --some of the top people in their field-- walked the streets collecting garbage. It was a nice gesture but, frankly, pretty absurd. Picking up trash was not the best use of these people's skills. What if Chrysler had instead hired one or two damn good financial experts to help Corktown win block grants, find funding and balance its books for a year? I suspect the results would have been more lasting than a day of clean streets.

This the idea behind what I'm proposing the ad agencies do. Take responsibility for a local community and put your people to work on it. Challenge professional peers and competitors to do the same in their communities. Insist.

So, why have I singled out our local ad agencies? No reason in particular. I could have just as easily challenged the growing IT industry or celebrated architecture firms or technology companies to do the same. Invest. Not in the business-as-usual here's-a-token-donation but in tangible, game-changing ways. Ways that leverage your talents and abilities. Ways that, brick by brick rebuild the foundation of our community and make us ready for a brighter future.

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