Close-Up: Ten ways to come out of the downturn on the up

Moray MacLennan, the M&C Saatchi worldwide chief executive, gives his top tips on how adland can survive the recession.

In my first-ever appraisal, I was told "Make sure more people hate you", which seemed slightly strange. But then I was reminded of this when reading my latest "lowdown" in The A List. "Openly hated," apparently. Maybe I did actually take it on board.

The key to advice is, of course, knowing which bits to ignore, which brings me neatly on to these "top ten tips". Some of them may not be news to you, but they may serve as a reminder - or perhaps you will think that some of them are such patent rubbish that you will do the complete opposite. Either way, I hope they help.

1. Cut deep. Cut early

The first person I made redundant was 45, and I was 25 and he cried. It's not something you forget or take lightly in the future.

Most people in advertising are optimists - paranoid, but also hopeless optimists. We have a deep-rooted belief that things will turn out OK, but, right now, part of us needs to remain objective and detached. Better to deliver one good clean hit than a series of half-hearted yet painful blows. You can then get on with taking two steps forward without taking one back.

2. Bite and scratch

For some companies, this recession will not be about "innovation", "leadership" or "creativity", it will be about survival. Sometimes you need to win ugly. I respect people who care about delivering what they said they would, even if it means scratching around and swallowing pride. I don't care how big your company is, it's a good attitude to have. It can also be bonding and fun, in a strange way.

3. Be seen

The instinct is to keep your head down, batten down the hatches and get on with it. But it's just when you want to retreat into your shell that you need to do the opposite. You need a profile - both internally and externally. People feed off your demeanour and mood - so stop frowning and get out and about.

Perception really is reality, so have a plan as to how to project both you and your company. Be honest, how many of us have written a PR strategy - ever? Why should anyone be interested in writing or reading about you or your company? You need people who want to do it and you need the raw material to give it meaning and substance.

4. Measure everything

The accepted wisdom is that creativity flourishes in a recession. Nevertheless, there is an equal and opposite force that will accelerate during these dark days. Accountability, measurement and data. "Any agency that hasn't doubled its research staff and tripled investment in metrics will lose clients fast," according to Nancy Hill, the chief executive of the American Association of Advertising Agencies.

It's clear - we will be expected to have a deeper understanding of how our output affects things. It's important not to groan at this point but rather bring creativity to bear on the new data-driven world, and look for new ways to make money out of it.

5. Light and shade

As Bill Muirhead has been heard to say: "It's only advertising mate, nobody dies." But he's Australian so can carry it off. I'm a Presbyterian Scot and, actually, people do die, I think. The point is - get a perspective. Don't spend two years of your life being completely miserable. Spread a little happiness. My plan is to be miserable half the time and relentlessly, irritatingly upbeat for the other.

6. Reinterpret before you reinvent

Look at your company's DNA before you try to create a new entity. Build on the positives that differentiate you - unless you're completely rubbish, in which case you should, of course, reinvent extremely quickly.

Timescales are also important. You need to make something happen, even have a series of 100-day plans, but don't be afraid to look three years out.

7. Be certain about the uncertainty

A small point, perhaps, but it could be the difference between survival and slipping beneath the waves. It's about knowing where you stand. A toxic mix of our supreme optimism - "I'm sure they'll increase the fee this year" - and extreme fear - "redundancies are in the air, better tell them it's looking just fine" - leads to a potentially fatal picture being painted. On top of that, we are all predisposed not to hear or believe bad news, and even less likely to act on it - which is part of what got us into this mess in the first place. So, take a deep breath, look at all the warts and consider the downsides. It's not very nice at the time, but you feel better and stronger afterwards.

8. Think. Do something

It's very easy not to think very much. The business tends to run you, rather than vice versa, even in the good times. It's even more likely in a recession - constant fires need attention.

So, create time to think, and then do something. I took on a new job last month and so I cleared my diary. Electronic diaries have many downsides - scroll forward to 2080 and you will find that, on 12 February, you have your weekly status meeting on The Digital Future. The advantage is you can delete all meetings at the press of a button, and so I did. So far, you could say, worryingly, it has had no noticeable effect. But I do have a lot more time.

9. An agency marches on its confidence

I told you there wouldn't be anything new in this piece, even if you've got this far.

It's important that everyone faces up to existing and potential hardships. At the same time, you want to feel energised, enthusiastic and positive. Schizophrenia is definitely a help here, but, ultimately, it's better to err on the positive side, because confidence produces energy, and good people die in a bad environment.

10. It will pass

This is the only thing we know about "it". Any good company has at least half an eye on the upturn - recruiting the best talent, looking for new partnerships, exploring new revenue streams. You never know, it may happen sooner than you think.

Whenever it does come to pass, the wheat will have been separated from the chaff. Good luck being the wheat, and feel free to remind me of the tips I should have included.

Topics

You have

[DAYS_LEFT] Days left

of your free trial

Subscribe now

Become a member of Campaign from just £46 a quarter

Get the very latest news and insight from Campaign with unrestricted access to campaignlive.co.uk ,plus get exclusive discounts to Campaign events

Become a member

Looking for a new job?

Get the latest creative jobs in advertising, media, marketing and digital delivered directly to your inbox each day.

Create an Alert Now
Share

1 Job description: Digital marketing executive

Digital marketing executives oversee the online marketing strategy for their organisation. They plan and execute digital (including email) marketing campaigns and design, maintain and supply content for the organisation's website(s).