Ah, the Campaign Annual: the best work and the smartest people from the past 12 months. Thank god for you all, you're the reason we're still here. But let's be honest, you are dazzling jewels studding what's been a big turd of a year.
Abuse of power, sexual predators, opaque business practices, sluggish improvements to diversity, shrinking budgets, shrinking rosters, share-price slumps, brand-safety concerns, and on and on: it’s been a bruising, damaging and exposing 12 months. Really, I would love to write an uplifting, air-punchy, amusing little piece about 2017 but it’s been a shitfest.
There have been years of budgetary prudence before. There have been years when we’ve navel-gazed about outdated business models. There have been years when creative excellence has been tricky to spot. There have been years when the country’s economy has reined in our ambitions. There have been years when embarrassing mistakes have been made. But I can’t remember another year when we’ve had all of this alongside the exposure of some pretty ugly stuff about behaviours and practices that have been allowed to exist in our industry.
All of this makes the achievements of the people, brands and companies celebrated in this year’s Annual perhaps even more remarkable. Doing great work against the backdrop of events this year represents a genuine triumph.
The journalist’s tool box offers up "tipping point", "watershed moment", "crisis point". Take your pick and run with it, because if there’s one certainty that has bobbed to the top of the effluence this year, it’s the need for change. Fundamental, sledgehammer change.
Yeah, I know it’s the season when journals of record haul out platitudes about the importance of what’s just gone and how the year ahead will be shaped by the events of the one behind. But I’ve never believed it as fiercely as I do at the death of 2017.
Here are some ways we will change. In 2018 it will be unacceptable to not have as close as possible to gender equality through your company and to be working purposefully toward parity. It will be unacceptable to not have a proper programme for improving diversity. It will be unacceptable to not have equal opportunities and equal pay.
It will be unacceptable to not be transparent about how you make money on your clients’ business. It will be unacceptable to create an advertising environment that pits commercials against offensive content. It will be unacceptable to use your power and position to prey sexually or emotionally on those around and beneath you. And it will be unacceptable to not deal firmly and quickly with those that do.
It will be unacceptable to not have a sensible policy governing how you fund maternity cover, support new parents and consider flexible working requests.
Of course, just because something’s unacceptable doesn’t mean it won’t happen, or won’t continue to exist. But when these things are generally considered unacceptable – and I believe that we are at that point – then changing them is no longer an option, it is a necessity for survival.
Companies that have already openly, strategically and measurably committed to address these unacceptable issues, companies that can change quickly, and companies that are new enough to have doing-the-right-thing baked into their culture, can face 2018 with a degree of confidence. Don’t bet on the rest.
Instead, bet on good people. They exist even in bad companies and they are energised and inspiring and bloody good fun even in tough situations. They genuinely are the reason most of us are still here.
And when the turd finally gets washed away, those jewels will dazzle even brighter. •
Claire Beale is the global editor-in-chief of Campaign.