What’s the one lesson from 2020 worth taking into next year?

As this extraordinary year draws to a close, adland offers some learnings from the one they called 2020.

2020: the coronavirus pandemic has brought huge challenges in all areas of work and life
2020: the coronavirus pandemic has brought huge challenges in all areas of work and life

It’s been a year like no other.
Unprecedented, unparalleled, choose whatever “un” you want.

Unlike all that’s gone before.
There’s been sadness and suffering, we learned words like “furlough” that we would rather not know.

We worked from home, left ourselves on mute and Zoomed the days away.
It was scary and intense, lonely and repetitive, strange and mundane…

But even as we were apart, we pulled together somehow.
We adapted and we innovated. Things got done, work got made.
Kindness and collaboration brought much-needed cheer.

It will get better.
Let’s face it, it couldn’t get much worse.
So kick back, relax and enjoy Christmas.
Then dump the hoodies, the jogging bottoms, the slippers, and smarten up.

And let’s get ready for 2021.
The year of the fightback.

This is the message that opens The Annual, Campaign’s end of year print edition, .

It’s an attempt to convey the trials and tribulations of 2020 but also offer hope that better times will (eventually) come. The words also acknowledge that kindness and collaboration came to the fore, something that many will want to see taken forward once life approaches something like normality.

While people are mightily fed-up with the changes to their lifestyles wrought by Covid - see Michael Sugden’s amusing rant against coronavirus jargon - it’s clear there are learnings to draw from these strange times.

It’s hard to imagine the culture of office presenteeism returning now that the industry has worked from home for the best part of the year without the wheels falling off. While the office plays an important role in building company culture, enabling staff to both network and nurture those at the start of their careers, there can be no doubt that this enforced home working period has shown there’s an attractive alternative to what we used to do.

Months of leading staff through difficult times from their homes via Zoom may see management styles change for the better as well. In The Annual, UM London chief executive Rachel Forde spoke eloquently about how this year she gained confidence in her empathetic leadership approach. Other leaders have spoken about how the intimacy of seeing everyone’s children, pets and front rooms has broken down barriers and humanised them.

This was also the year that brands and agencies, spurred by the rise of the Black Lives Movement as well as Covid, discovered how effective decisive action can be. While there is an argument that they should have been in place anyhow, substantive initiatives to tackle race inequality were established quickly this summer while brands ditched their usual tortuous sign-off processes to roll out purposeful activity at speed.

So what else can we learn? We asked industry figures at different points in their career to let us know the one lesson from 2020 they want to take into next year.

Richard Huntington

Chairman and chief strategy officer, Saatchi & Saatchi London

Partnership is something agencies have always sought from our clients. This year taught us the value of true partnership. Relationships built on partnership not just procurement saw brands able to step up faster and stronger to meet the year’s unfolding challenges. Because their agencies were close enough and cared enough, to step up themselves.

We must never again allow our commitment, loyalty and pure tribalism on behalf of our clients be reduced to sterile discussions about working and non-working marketing spend. We worked our socks off and hearts out this year because we cared and it mattered.

Mike Sutherland

Executive creative director, Adam & Eve/DDB

There’s no denying it, 2020 has been an absolute shocker of a year. Unless you’re Jeff Bezos and your bank balance has increased by a few gazillion.

But if there’s one good thing to come out of possibly the worst year since “years” were invented, is that sometimes the worst brings out the best in us. This year has tested us all. Over and over and over again. But to see how well everyone has responded, not just at our agency, but the industry as a whole is truly remarkable. We are now stronger, smarter and more resilient than ever before. What would have been impossible last year, now seems totally do-able this year.

Metz Bryan-Fasano

Production lead and co-founder, Other London

When the situation feels dire, exhausting, impossible – the reflex is to fight it, but that’s the moment to stop and be incredibly thankful. These moments are massive opportunities, to push ourselves further, build resilience, and learn new life lessons that are going to carry us in the future. This practice allows me to be grateful for what I still do have and challenges my thinking to consider different approaches to my work and my life.This year we were pushed beyond what you’d ever expect, which means we are now even stronger for next year, and I am grateful for it.

Tony Holdway

Outgoing chief marketing officer, Pret A Manger

What a knife edge/seat edge year, eh? Crazy. Pret’s been an amazing ride and as I enter my final days it’s worth reflecting on what we’ve achieved and what we might take into 2021. The biggest lesson for me is rather than trying to predict 2021, we should think much further out.

The shorter term will be besieged by changes, lockdowns, forks in the road - strategising further out gives you the ability to make your business fit for purpose on the other side of all this. Properly ready for the future, and ahead of the competition. What will your business and category look like in three to five years? Sort this and the immediate speed bumps then become more trivial obstacles.

Loriley Sessions

Creative, New Commercial Arts

Without sounding like an Instagrammable quote and getting all deep and meaningful, I have 100% become more grateful this year.

Grateful for having a job. And that I love it. Grateful for having made work. Grateful for a posh coffee. Grateful that my creative partner is more like my sister. Grateful for small businesses busting a gut to stay alive. Grateful for a beer in the pub at the end of the day (miss you). Grateful for people, health, memes, conversations with strangers in shops, managing to see my family at least once, and for just making it out the other side.

And I promise to never take it for granted again.


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