How will Covid-19 change the way adland works?

Leaders share their two cents on the future of advertising.

Coronavirus: pandemic has potential to 'change how we work forever'
Coronavirus: pandemic has potential to 'change how we work forever'

Cannes is cancelled, multinational campaigns are on hold and Zoom is violating our human rights – safe to say, 2020 hasn’t gone off to the flying start we had first hoped.

As brands and agencies attempt to wade through the media storm of the coronavirus pandemic (alongside the teething problems of home-working and bog-roll hoarding), the future of the industry remains up in the air.

While Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO chief executive of Sarah Douglas maintains that the pandemic "will change how we work forever", Sir Martin Sorrell, executive chairman of S4 Capital and former chief executive of WPP, is confident that the final quarter will hail a "sharp recovery" for the industry, even if cinema and outdoor are experiencing a devastating first and likely second quarter.

Seizing this dystopian moment in history as a time to reflect, Campaign asked industry professionals what they would like to change about the way adland works once the uncertainty of Covid-19 finally comes to an end.

Annette King

Chief executive officer, Publicis Groupe UK

I think that, in our post-Covid-19 world, we will do three main things differently, based on what we’re experiencing by the day: 

  1. We will work differently. Less office time, less commuting, less travel – just as much work getting done. I don’t think we will want to go back to how it was before and will create our own new working patterns and ways. 

  2. We will help each other out more. Yes, we will still be one of the most competitive industries on Earth (and long may that continue) but, as we are learning how to be kinder to each other in everyday life, I hope that we will hold on to that and bring it to our future work lives. 

  3. We will be more creative, in many more ways, than we ever dreamed of before this happened and clients will be more open to ideas they wouldn’t have entertained. We’ve had to adapt, overnight, to client challenges we could never have imagined while also being hugely hampered in how we do what we do. Unsurprisingly, given this determined, inventive, unbeatable industry, we are not letting that get the better of us. In fact, we will get the better of it – of that I am certain.      

Ete Davies

Chief executive, Engine Creative

I’d like to see new models for working with clients, which involve closer collaboration and tighter partnerships – moving towards more iteration, co-creation and collaboration in the creative process. Also continuing the pandemic-driven innovation, which has seen agencies invent new models of production that are more agile, efficient and experimental. 

More work that is originated directly in response to, or out of, an increasing connection to communities and culture – with brands driven by purpose connecting behaviour and belief to help customers and see where they can play an authentically useful role, beyond just selling. 

Finally, within our organisations, I’d like us to fully embrace more fluidity and flexibility in our working practices. The long-held belief that agencies couldn't support remote working has been proved wrong, which hopefully will lead to more representative and inclusive workplaces. Allowing us to benefit from more accessibility of talent, for everything from working parents and the physically impaired to addressing the social mobility challenges our London-centric industry has. In a world where co-location is not mandatory, we can assemble the best talent from all over the country. I’d like to see our industry use this as an opportunity to experiment with how we can more meaningfully leverage talent across the UK and globally.

John Townshend

Chairman and co-founder, Now

It’ll be different and the same.

It’s ironic. Last year, we did a big programme to encourage flexible working and to make people feel respected about their choice of how they worked. To avoid "presenteeism", which had become a word. Not a nice word, but a word.  

Now, we have other words – like "social distancing" and "self-isolation".

And you know what, people are telling me they want to be present; they miss that hike to work we all moaned about. These days, we dream of walking out of Oxford Circus Tube on a wet Monday morning. 

This crisis has really raised big human questions about what is family and, at work, what is a company? In these times, you appreciate how precious and delicate are those invisible bonds that make a company culture. At our place, we pay a lot of attention to it and, if anything, this time has made us appreciate its value. 

And on a more mundane, practical level. It’s shown that we can do meetings, quite happily, on Zoom. I think it’s opened our eyes to what flexible can be. But, more than anything, it has made us appreciate the value of being together, thinking together and playing together. 

We miss us.

Paddy Adams

Chief strategy officer, Manning Gottlieb OMD

I’m not sure this really is a moment to pause, reflect and think – at least not yet. Hopefully, we’ll get there in time, but for now it’s a moment of rapid adjustment to a new reality (and trying to write trends decks whilst a four-year-old throws Lego bricks at your head). That said, there are definitely things I’d like to see continue beyond the lockdown.

  1. A greater culture of collaboration. Not something we’ve ever had an issue with at MG OMD, but heartening to see how quickly (and brilliantly) small groups of people can crack a problem together.
  2. More solidarity with our clients. Being a service industry can sometimes mean a strange power dynamic between clients and agencies, but there’s nothing like a common enemy to bring people together.
  3. Better meeting etiquette. Virtual meetings seem to start on time and often have an actual agenda. Let’s keep it up.

Charlie Rudd

Chief executive, Leo Burnettt London

This crisis will change the industry by reminding us to focus on what we do best and what matters. Being a creative business, we have a magpie-like attraction and distraction to shiny things. Anything from shiny awards to the latest shiny bit of tech. And we all gravitate to these things, although we know they may have little to do with what we are meant to be doing for our clients. Now, more than ever, seeing awards-fodder work just looks so inappropriate, dated and irrelevant.

We build businesses by creating large customer numbers keen to buy into what a brand offers. We mobilise and persuade large groups of people to act. Populist creativity is a special power. It will be our contribution to rebuilding businesses and creating new jobs for many. This won’t be through stunts for a Cannes audience, nor through clever retargeting; it will come from large broadly targeted brand marketing campaigns that empathise and inspire a nation yearning for recovery and positivity. It’s what we do best and it’s what UK plc needs from us right now.