Build new relationships based on trust and mutual support
A view from Claire Beale

Build new relationships based on trust and mutual support

Maybe this is a moment our industry finds a fresh purpose and a new respect.

Everything. Has. Changed.

But let’s be clear: most things will not change forever.

Yes, we’re living through history. Yes, last year, even last month, seems another world. But we will get through this and human beings are unlikely to change, not fundamentally.

Hopefully this crisis will mean people come through it with greater empathy – a word that has appeared in our news stories many, many more times over the past few weeks than ever before; with more care for their health and that of the planet; empiricism, science, truth will be more valued; there will be a fresh surge in creativity, ingenuity and inventiveness. But many, many things will return to the way they were before.

Maybe, though, this is a moment our industry finds a fresh purpose and a new respect. Empathy, creativity, ingenuity, logic – this is an amazing time to have the kind of tools and talent this industry possesses, not to make ads with (necessarily) but solve problems, invent things, to design real utilities that help people in creative ways. And if social media has taught us anything over the past few weeks, it’s that people’s hunger for humour and entertainment is keener than ever – time for the ad industry to prove itself again here too.

Covid-19 is an unprecedented human tragedy and the number-one priority of every business right now has to be the well-being of people: taking care of their staff and doing whatever they can to help the public and society get through the crisis. But getting through the crisis also requires businesses to be making money, protecting jobs and driving the economy. The ad industry is an industry built on solving problems and already there are many wonderful examples of brands and agencies using their skills and resources to make a positive contribution to the battle against the disease. It’s been fantastic to see a rapid-response surge in creative thinking over the past few weeks as agencies step up to address their clients’ problems, their own business challenges and to redefine – hopefully forever – what meaningful social purpose really looks like.

The finest examples I can think of are a result of the best agencies and the smartest clients able to work together at speed because they have a rock-solid trust and shared values between them. The truth is that challenges are almost always solved faster and more effectively by collaboration, by partnership. And collaboration and partnerships are what will help us all get through the crisis – partnerships between people and between countries and in our industry between agencies and marketers.

So it’s been truly depressing over recent weeks to hear stories of client/agency abuse. Yes, the top priority for any business must be the welfare of its people and some are making incredibly tough decisions in order to protect their staff, but it’s been awful to hear of some cash-rich client companies delaying payments to agencies (some of them small, independent businesses), and it’s equally appalling to hear about a few agencies charging clients exorbitant fees to draft "emergency strategies".

Now is the time for marketers and their agencies to build new, deeper working relationships built on true partnership, trust and mutual support. After all, they share the same goals perhaps as never before: the care of people, of society, of each other’s corporate health and long-term prospects in order to ensure economic stability as much as possible. Marketers must think creatively about pricing, about distribution, about customer service, and they must be able to make the case to their boards for sustained marketing investment if at all possible. The best ad agencies will be their best allies in this mission and the best outcomes will result from the strongest relationships.

We need to move on from the procurer/supplier mentality that has dictated the rules of marketer/agency engagement for so long and redefine what a client/agency partnership really looks like in order to work together to secure livelihoods and find true, useful and lasting purpose for this industry.

Claire Beale is global editor-in-chief at Campaign

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