As the ad industry emerges battered and bruised after a torrid year, credit must go to the great and the good of the IPA, which in electing Julian “Dougie” Douglas as president look to have called it right.
Energetic, optimistic, open and a natural collaborator who sees the value of working in partnership towards a common goal, Douglas, whom I have profiled, is the tonic adland needs at this precise moment.
His predecessor in the role, Publicis Sapient global chief executive Nigel Vaz, is a thoughtful leader and his “Reimagine” agenda remains relevant but he would not necessarily be one’s first port of call if you were looking for someone to pump up an industry in a post-pandemic world.
On the face of it, picking up the presidency now looks like somewhat of a poisoned chalice. The IPA’s own census figures make for painful reading, painting a picture of an industry blunted by Covid, with staff numbers falling by 11%, while our School Reports coverage shows it was a tough year, with staff enduring redundancies, salary sacrifices and furlough.
However, as someone who has pored over the reports, it was heartening to see how agencies adapted and innovated and, in some cases, didn’t just survive but thrived.
This spirit of invention, of doing things that, at the outset, seemed impossible, is what Douglas is trying to harness and turn into a positive. He acknowledges that while things were bad, the flux created by the chaos of last year has created an environment ripe for change.
Douglas’ inaugural speech last month, which outlined his “10X” agenda contained some nice ideas. A “10X thinktank” fronted by the big-brained Rory Sutherland “to show the world what advertising’s brightest thinkers are capable of” sounds intriguing, while a focus on
gaming taps into a growing recognition that this sector offers opportunities for adland. Essentially, though, his pitch is not about reinventing the wheel but turbo-charging the things that already exist. He wants the industry to get its confidence back and go bigger, better and faster.
Denied the usual lunchtime London hotel platform, Douglas travelled to his home city of Manchester to record his address in and around its Science and Industry Museum. This was then streamed on YouTube to more than 350 viewers.
The symbolism of filming the speech outside the M25 was not lost on the audience and, if you’re looking for a silver lining to come out of the pandemic, the erosion of geographic boundaries has to be one of them – hopefully that’s a trend here to stay.
Despite the virtual setting, the audience was fired up and in lieu of applause came live-feed compliments.
“Brilliant location, inspiring presentation and love focus on excellence and the multiplier effect of what we do,” was the verdict of 23red chief executive and founder Jane Asscher. It was a view shared by most commenters. Michael Pring, Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO’s deputy chairman, simply said: “Love the ambition and positivity of this.”
To channel the School Reports lingo, Douglas has made a promising start but let’s see whether this new house captain applies himself over the term and ensures the rhetoric matches the reality.
Gemma Charles is deputy editor of Campaign