Richard Exon: Adland's latter-day explorers face trek into the unknown

Richard Exon: Adland's latter-day explorers face trek into the unknown

There is some debate about whether Ernest Shackleton ever ran the recruitment ad that has now passed into folklore:

Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages. Bitter cold. Long months of complete darkness. Constant danger. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success.

Real or imagined, it stands as a brilliantly written piece of copy that captures the excitement of embarking on a new adventure, while also being a chillingly effective reminder that great risk and reward often sit side by side. General Melchett's invitation to Captain Blackadder to lead "Operation Certain Death" may have been funnier, but Shackleton's writer wins for completeness.

The story of his 1914 Antarctic expedition is as inspiring as it is tragic, springing as it does from a time when nobody believed they had all the answers and the world was still a place to be discovered. Even at the turn of the last century and at the onset of the First World War, whole countries remained unmapped, technology was in its infancy and globalisation of any kind some time off. (The word "globalisation" itself didn't appear in publication until 1930.)

Of course, any comparison between the life-threatening reality of Antarctic exploration and the challenges faced by our media and communication industry doesn't bear any serious scrutiny. But I am drawn to the wide-eyed excitement and enthusiasm that Shackleton and his crew had for the world around them.

They couldn't know how the journey would end, but they knew they had to make it. More than anything, this puts me in mind of the renewed energy and openness to new thinking that is apparent in our market.

Like those explorers years ago, this generation of marketers is operating in new territory, where a lack of predictability is more than compensated for by the scale of opportunity.

Not a day goes by without a client company breaking cover about revising its organisational design, reframing its budgets and rebooting how it thinks about brands, communication and content.

Why? Because clients know that, on many fronts, consumer behaviour is changing fantastically fast and we all need to run to keep pace.

Naturally, this is great for the creative industry. Working differently is no longer a risk, it's a mandatory. Superb content is no longer optional, it's compulsory. Create or approve something mediocre and it will only ever exist in paid-for space, unloved and unshared.

This is what seems to be getting us all excited - a new complicity between consumers, brands and creativity that only great stuff is worth bothering with and the rest can go hang.

Richard Exon will be starting a business with Damon Collins later in the year.