Rik Haslam: Why decline in DM creative standards could be irreversible

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Rik Haslam is the chief creative officer at Rapp
Rik Haslam is the chief creative officer at Rapp

Is direct marketing in the UK suffering an irreversible decline in the quality of its creative work?

The UK's performance at awards shows suggests that it seems to be. And whenever I showcase the best direct work to my clients, I find myself pulling together case studies that, with some admirable exceptions, are primarily from other markets.

In my view, the work from outside the UK is undoubtedly better. But not for the reasons most frequently put forward. The work isn't all spoof; it isn't all specially created for awards shows; it isn't all agency-funded one-offs. Other mature, conservatively minded markets deliver great work (the US, for one). And, in my experience, there's no lack of UK direct marketing talent either agency-side or client-side.

What I do see, though, are some cultural problems, an inability for the most ambitious ideas to make it through to delivery and issues with how technology-literate our industry is.

As far as delivery goes, we still seem to have some difficulty developing big ideas that are driven by fully connected experiences. In the UK, agencies and clients still, by and large, seem to operate in channel silos. Often, direct, digital, PR and ad agencies are all briefed to work together to develop a solution. On the client side, frequently comms, brand and direct departments collaborate in less than politically neutral ways.

In many cases, these tendencies result in collaboration being a chaotic, frustrating experience for everyone involved. One agency might have an awesome idea, but the absence of genuine collaboration means the idea often dies before it has had a chance to gestate properly.

Elsewhere in the world, any one of these agencies might be briefed to deliver a fully fledged, connected experience. In other words, the lines, hierarchies and demarcations seem to have collapsed more quickly in other markets.

I also don't see technology driving creativity often enough in the UK. Perhaps less traditional markets embrace change more swiftly. Maybe the impact of technology makes itself felt that much more powerfully. Whatever the cause, I still too regularly see technology treated as almost a production aspect of delivering powerful brand experiences, rather than the core driver of creative solutions.

There are also, I suspect, deeper culture issues at play. Is our world view too limited in the UK? Do we think in too small a space? Perhaps our mindset is too British. I think it is. It's why I try hard to fill my creative department with voices, influences and opinions from around the world.

And then I also question how seriously our industry takes itself. Some of the fun has gone and maybe that's the biggest problem. Have we become boring while the rest of the world lets its hair down?

Rik Haslam is the chief creative officer at Rapp.


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