The age of nastiness is over for agencies, says Creativebrief MD

In advertising, being nice no longer means finishing last, explains the Creativebrief managing director, Charlie Carpenter.

Charlie Carpenter: you can be successful in business and nice at the same time
Charlie Carpenter: you can be successful in business and nice at the same time

Nasty word, nice. Ironic that. For a long time we were all led to believe that you couldn’t be successful in business and be nice at the same time. Arseholes flourished. As such, the myth self-perpetuated.

There’s no denying that at various points in recent history the world of advertising and communications has been as much a subscriber to that philosophy as any other, but the sands are shifting. So, if you’re an agency leader take heed in the slow but steady turning of the dial.

Through the eighties, nineties and even the naughties, popularly held beliefs often led to very particular cultures and behaviours within agencies. Not always good, not always bad; simply as the doctrine of the times dictated.

Among others, some attitudes and beliefs that crept in and took hold were...

That the purest ideas came from a structure that saw one person take control of ‘creative’ decision-making.

That input from too many people (on client and agency teams) led to ‘decision by committee’ and diluted the efficacy of the work.

That the best environment for fostering creativity was one of conflict; that extended disagreements and arguments often led to the best possible output.

That confidence, self-belief, single-mindedness and doggedness – often straying into arrogance – was what clients wanted (even needed) from their agency.

We’ve all listened to, marvelled at, then secretly admired the brazenness of fabled rumours of old. Those of high-octane advertising execs taking body language classes with the express aim of intimidating their clients, or lowering the legs of reception sofas so clients felt smaller and over-awed by the impressive men (yes, mainly men at the time) who came to meet them.

Oh, the high-jinks of eras gone by. But make no mistake, times they are a changin’. At our Future Market Leader event held in October, a key theme that brand CMOs pointed to was more of a two-way learning relationship between them and their juniors than ever before. This recognition (they said) has led to more open and democratic marketing departments. Individuals at all levels are encouraged to have an opinion and contribute to the conversation.

It’s within the constructs of this new world that the next generation of marketing leaders are plying their trade. And it’s rubbing off fast. This group is striving for evermore collaborative relationships in all areas of working life, in the belief that this environment, and not one of ego and conflict, is where creativity best gestates then thrives.

They’re looking to agencies who embrace values like openness, respect, transparency, tolerance and broadmindedness. For whom teamwork and partnership are engrained in the DNA. Not for relationships predicated on ‘them-and-us’ or general disunion.

But that’s all theory – here’s the interesting bit. Of course agencies can’t and won’t ever flourish without passionate and hugely talented individuals prepared to fight for their beliefs. But in our opinion what marked out a large proportion of the most successful agencies in 2015 was a notably more modern style. Dynamic, engaging, inspiring, empathetic and inclusive; devoid of ego, self-importance and entitlement.

Try as you might, you won’t get close to engendering a culture like that without leadership that truly lives and breathes it. So, you know who you are. And hats off to you for capitalising on a changing world that more than ever embraces ‘good’ people and business combined. To all the others looking for that extra ingredient in 2016, a (nasty) word of advice: be nice.

Charlie Carpenter is the managing director of Creativebrief.