TikTok, Uncommon and Spark Foundry on how 2020 changed agency relationships

Amid the fallout from the pandemic, businesses see some positives for the future in how their ways of working changed in 2020.

Campaign Breakfast Briefing: Angelides, Jameson, Spanier and Johnson
Campaign Breakfast Briefing: Angelides, Jameson, Spanier and Johnson

The hit to the UK advertising market from the Covid pandemic has been well documented, although it may prove less severe than previously feared.

But, according to Trevor Johnson, head of marketing, global business solutions, Europe, at TikTok, the difficult circumstances of 2020 also led to some positive developments in the advertising world.

“We definitely saw a larger proportion of marketing investment last year was about building and maintaining meaningful relationships rather than driving sales,” Johnson said.

“There was an authenticity that brands came to platforms with that you hadn’t seen before, a more human side. The pandemic has forced the marketing industry to work at full throttle in a very different way, work more closely with partners.”

Johnson was speaking as part of a panel session on new agency models and ways of working at Campaign's Breakfast Briefing last week, alongside Uncommon Creative Studio co-founder Lucy Jameson, Marcos Angelides, chief strategy and innovation officer at Spark Foundry, and Campaign's editor-in-chief, Gideon Spanier.

Campaign aimed to start the new year on an optimistic note by naming the event The Year Ahead: Ready for the Rebound but, as the past few weeks have shown, the coronavirus is not quite ready yet to loosen its grip on normality.

So Jameson is expecting another “rocky” year. Combining agency bravado with grim realism, she said: “There are going to be amazing opportunities but it’s going to be tough.”

The more upbeat moments of the discussion focused on how teams had coped with and adapted to the deconstruction of their usual working patterns.

All three talked about seeing better communication and co-operation between previously mutually suspicious parts of the advertising machine. The improvement was attributed by Angelides to the tightness of deadlines forced by the pandemic’s unpredictability.

“The big [change] is communication and sharing of information between teams, whether it’s brand and performance working more together or media agencies and creative, or media owners and tech partners … because when you’ve got hours to turn things around, you can’t have those old divisions, those ways of working that we used to see,” he said.

“It’s forced everyone to work more closely together,” Jameson agreed. She claimed that she had seen more fluidity between media and creative, in line with Uncommon’s philosophy of bringing them together again.

“To be able to pull things off like ITV's 'Britain get talking' mental-health initiative during Covid, which was turned around within four days, you cannot [do that] unless you are joined at the hip.”

Angelides had his own example of co-operation at speed in work on Dixons Carphone Group campaigns and in helping Asda participate in Channel 4’s short-notice ad break, for which most of the top supermarkets banded together to show their opposition to racist comments about Sainsbury’s Christmas ad.

“We had around 24 hours – historically, that would have been impossible, too much red tape, but the importance of it meant we had to make it happen,” he said.

“Media agencies are getting a greater appreciation of what creatives need to do and creative agencies are getting a stronger appreciation of the insights and the data that media can offer to inform the creative process.”

Angelides expressed optimism that the urgency of 2020 might “provide a blueprint to work better together and do things faster in the future”.

In part, it is about speeding processes up, he said, but also about “the stuff that was slowing you down in the past… some of it to do with where and how we work, sometimes there was an over-dependence on everyone getting together physically”.

However, Johnson for one is looking forward to the end of enforced remote working – despite finding recruitment by Zoom highly efficient in allowing him to significantly expand his team after joining TikTok last February.

“The challenge, though, is that … the culture is very hard to maintain and build. And working remotely is great but actually we’re in the creative industry, you don’t have that serendipity and spontaneity that you get when you’re in an office, or the trust and the assumption of good intent that you get when you interpersonal communication.”