On the one hand, the idea of change is compelling. It’s the promise of leaving the cage and rising up above the storm, where the air is clear and the view to our desired destination is unimpeded by the demands of everyday life.
I’ve written this piece against the shifting political backdrop of a UK General Election in which the parties most likely to be able to deliver change were promising very different visions of what that might look like. Now, this Conservative government must wake up to the reality of the other kind of change. The kind that you and I wrestle with every day. The kind that refuses to be defined or corralled, demands our constant attention and likes to do what it is does best, which is to change more.
All of which brings us, in a roundabout way, to today – blinking with hope and some trepidation into the first few days of a bright new decade. The election result was sub-optimal. That’s not a partisan statement but, rather, acknowledgement that, while some questions have been answered, they have merely been supplanted by other equally pressing unknowns.
Creativity and collaboration
How will Brexit ‘get done’ and what will it look like when it does? Securing the majority to pass an EU withdrawal agreement and being able to negotiate a comprehensive trade agreement with the EU by the end of the transition period in just over a year’s time are challenges of an entirely different magnitude. It is the latter that business – our clients’ and our own organisations – will welcome after these past years of Brexit uncertainty.
In the weeks leading up to the election, the IPA surveyed members of its Council – the UK’s senior-most body of agency leaders. Twothirds of this governing body believe (or hope) that post-Brexit the UK’s future trading relationship will be a close, customs union or similar, arrangement; they were unanimous in the belief that Brexit does have an impact on their agency. The survey also revealed that more than 90% of these agency leaders believe Brexit is having a negative impact on client budgets, and is driving short-termism in budget setting. The same percentage say their clients’ expectation is that their agency will help them to drive business growth.
When I announced my ‘Reimagine’ agenda for the IPA last year, it was with the intent of reminding our industry and the players within it of the potential and the power they have to effect change – even when sometimes it may feel that the opposite is true. ‘Reimagine’ also seeks to navigate the uncertainty, complexity and contradictions of the world we operate in: of how we must undergo a critical shift in our role and relationship with clients that reflects the rapid and fundamental change impacting business; of restoring trust in marketing, advertising and in the technology that underpins them.
We hear and acknowledge the angst that creativity is in crisis, that an era of left-brain dominance, short-termism and downward pressure on agency remuneration is reducing advertising’s effectiveness (as intelligently examined in the 2019 IPA/Effworks book ‘Lemon’ by Orlando Wood). Yet our belief in the power of creativity, and of agencies, to build brands, drive growth and generate profit is undimmed. From 2020, the IPA’s discussions and collaboration with ISBA will reach a new level. As our ‘Reimagine’ agenda recognises, the challenges as well as the future successes of clients and agencies are interconnected – and the answers will be found in our ability to become true partners for growth.
The principle of rejecting isolationism, exceptionalism, parochialism and finger pointing is one the IPA will follow (and that we would all do well to heed). We will follow it as the UK teases out new trading relationships with Europe and beyond, and our advertising industry advances its creative reputation globally.
We will follow it as we welcome the 2020s and a wave of innovation that is likely to be substantially greater and more impactful than in the past decade – when AI, automation and robotics will become deeply embedded in the industry of every client that we partner and 5G will accelerate the speed and capabilities of these technologies to extraordinary levels. We will follow it as we embrace the potential that technology – properly harnessed as a tool of design and innovation – has to serve creativity and business growth. The past decade showed us that technology is a force for good, but that some will choose to use it negatively and unethically. We saw greater advances in the ability to communicate within a largely unrestricted global digital ecosystem.
Yet the decade also gave us Cambridge Analytica and consumer privacy concerns, fake news, election interference, online hate and, in our own industry, we grappled with brand safety, online harm and transparency in media trading. Technology and ethics must be something we continue to monitor and ready ourselves to regulate, if we do not wish for governments to do that for us – and to us.
Challenge and change
One other issue not yet resolved is inclusion and diversity. This is the final year for the industry to meet the IPA’s 2020 diversity targets, the results of which will be announced in 2021. Much – arguably too much – of the past decade was spent identifying the scale of the problem, while actual equality improvements have been slow, bordering on elusive. This next decade, our emphasis must shift from the ‘what’ to the ‘how’ we improve, and drive forward diversity. The IPA will be at the forefront of that effort. Not only because equality is the right thing to pursue, but because we recognise that inclusivity and diversity is part of the change that we must make for and with our clients as partners for growth.
The IPA is hopeful and positive about the year and decade ahead. We see what you see, and recognise the work needed to turn the tide. The 3Rs of our ‘Reimagine’ agenda represent our commitment to change. Our Role will be to truly become partners for growth to our clients; through career-long access to industry training fit for the age, we will supercharge creativity and effectiveness, and reinforce advertising as the fuel for growth. Revenue – the downward pressure on remuneration and trend toward short-termism – will be addressed through IPA/ISBA collaboration, where there is a shared appreciation for fair distribution of the benefits of growth delivered. On Responsibility, we commit to the relentless pursuit of full equality, in all its forms, in our industry – as well as to the restoration of trust through the ethical application of advertising, data and technology.
In this new decade, the responsibility rests on us all – on an industry, agency and individual level – to make the changes we want to see.