Always remember to look both ways
October 14th, 2021
Much has been written during our Pandemic Period about the old rules no longer applying, about the need to seize this crisis opportunity to…dare I say it…‘build back better’, given the endemic issues that have been brewing within the wider comms community, the storm clouds that were on the horizon now overhead and breeching. Gender pay gaps, the lack of diversity, institutionalised racism, agencies paying lip service to real change (simply more ‘blah, blah, blah’ as Greta would say) – the list goes on.
These are all critical issues and of course it must be right that the industry as a whole should look in on itself, expose its prejudices, its unconscious biases, call out its inequalities and find ways of becoming more inclusive, approachable and democratic. But while these issues focus much attention, this should not be at the expense of the wider context of why this industry exists – to win the hearts and minds of consumers to embrace change, think differently and yes, buy things through the power of outstanding thinking and creativity expressed through multiple media touchpoints in innovative ways.
I don’t think it would be an overstatement to suggest that the industry has largely been treading water creatively over the last few years with truly outstanding work as rare as hen’s teeth. Work that you rush to talk to your mates about. If you are skilled enough to be in the saddle of one of these unicorns, work that instils a sense of real pride and achievement. Go on – name your top 5 campaigns of 2021. Hard, isn’t it? There are multiple causes for this, from clients lacking the desire to take risks (“it’s all their fault”) to huge advances in digital tech to mirror the explosive growth of digital media consumption. The remarkable ability to measure digital marketing effectiveness down to the last penny has meant that targeting efficiency has assumed the throne where creative clout once sat. The ads have in the large part become mere assets to be deployed, a commodity to feed into the machine. The corollary of this is that the comms model is all about achieving a successful operation – at the expense of the patient that lies dead on the table.
There is talk just now about the ‘talent drain’ and the difficulty agencies are experiencing in attracting new recruits to their businesses as revenues tick up again post pandemic. Is it any wonder though? The lure of the central London office isn’t quite what it was, given once you get there, it’s all a bit quiet compared to the advertising dream. Any hint of hedonism expunged. Fun diarised once a week if you’re lucky with a congregated mini-crowd. But far more importantly, the work… “you want to pay me £x for producing this sort of stuff!?” If we don’t focus our absolute commitment and attention on the glorious output of this entire, complicated process of communications, then all is lost. Why would anyone want to put themselves through the headache and hassle of modern agency life if at the end of it all, they are little more than machine operators, producing work that is largely unremarkable? Just adding to the burgeoning mountain of advertising chaff, churned out with a crank of a programmatic handle. Entries on a spreadsheet rather than the faintest flicker on the heart monitor.
So here’s a plan; for every minute of time spent looking inwards, trying to fathom the Gordian knot of agency issues, invest double that on looking out on contribution to the world – the final work that is launched. If it doesn’t stir the soul, flush it. Only then can the industry rediscover a sense of pride in what it does, rather than fall over itself in apologising for how it has got here.