In the aftermath of this dreary peacetime war, what can we and our industry hope for? What does "better" look like and is renewal even a realistic possibility?
Renewal is, of course, a daily miracle in the natural world. The human body is a teeming wellspring of it, 100 million new red blood cells created every minute, and, by the latest theory, the entire human body replaced every decade and a half. When someone asks your age, the answer is 15.
Looking out of the window also shows the annual renewal of nature, as spring begins to bloom. Importantly, renewal in nature can also come out of shock and destruction. Fire in woodland has long been used to clear dead material, add nutrients back to the soil and restore balance to the ecosystem. From the charred soil comes a brighter green.
We also see this pattern in human history, as societies regenerate after the destruction of war.
The Black Death plague, which ravaged Europe in the 14th century, killed up to 30% of the population but the resulting upheaval brought an end to feudalism, 200 years of increased wages and innovation, the idea of separation of church and state and a new attention to hygiene and medicine.
From the plague came an era of prosperity and discovery that ushered in the Renaissance. In the last century the defeat and destruction of the Axis powers produced, via Marshall Aid, the 1950-2000 economic miracles of Germany and Japan.
Renewal in societal terms is produced by the destruction of the old and the forced consideration of new ways of thinking and doing.
The same is true of our world; that of business, brands and communication. So, now, instead of going "back to normal", let’s focus on moving forward – but with our new wisdom intact. We can design a new future with our people, governments, systems...and, of course, the brands we are privileged to work with.
As we start this new chapter, how do we all move forward, and use these multidimensional crises to spark a new – and better – tomorrow?
I believe it is possible to see in the reaction to the current crisis three significant trends that will shape our world and have the potential both to renew our purpose and underscore the centrality of what we do.
The past 12 months have taken so many activities – working, meeting, shopping – from the physical world to the world of screens. We may hunger for physical meeting and contact again but the changes will not entirely reverse.
Ecomms has compressed a decade of growth into a year, doubling share or more in many categories. In this virtual world, where you can touch, see and smell less, the imaginative power of brands (which, after all, exist only in our mutual imaginations) becomes even greater.
Our industry, at the heart of storytelling and brand experience delivered across a range of constantly changing media platforms, should be in a good position to thrive in this world.
The rise of collaboration
The pandemic has been a global issue and collaboration across borders has been a huge part of helping deal with it, not least in the production of vaccines.
Brands are one of the strongest uniting global forces. In McCann Worldgroup’s proprietary research, 81% of people believe brands have more power to make positive change than governments.
Now, then, is the moment to embrace the generosity of spirit inherent in collaboration. At our agency group, we have long believed in the mantra "Brilliant individually, unbeatable as one", which seems more relevant than ever.
With the growing importance of the triple bottom line and a greater focus on ESG (environmental, social and governmental) in the way businesses and brands calibrate their targets and measure success, the impact of collaboration seems more valuable than ever.
Mental and physical wellbeing
The pandemic – with its increased jeopardy, suffering and loss, and the way that it has blurred the lines at work between the domestic and professional environments, making us all more human and vulnerable to each other – has highlighted the importance of the wellbeing of the people with whom we work.
This not only about the short term as we cope with the pressures and strains of WFH, lockdown and isolation, but in the longer term and how all of us help them to develop our own human capital and preserve a balance in life.
In an imagination economy, mental and physical wellbeing becomes a crucial asset. We must safeguard and cherish it.
This will call on our industry to prioritise new skills. Adaptive intelligence will be much sought after, combining creativity, resilience and EQ.
More than ever, we will need open and empathetic people who can build trust and empower diverse talent, alongside the more classic skills of resourcefulness, strategy and pragmatic decisiveness.
One year into the crisis, with all its pain and tedium, I see in these themes, the shining possibility of renewal.
It’s now up to us to seize the moment.
Mark Lund is president, UK & Europe, McCann Worldgroup