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Year ahead for creativity: Open up to exciting new voices

The future loses its promise if the talent pool keeps shrinking.

Year ahead for creativity: Open up to exciting new voices

Invest now in the next generation of talent to kickstart a creative renaissance

"Creativity will always be, and has always been, the answer," Rob Doubal, co-president and chief creative officer of McCann UK, tells Campaign. After years of industry leaders fretting over the latest perceived threat, from data to artificial intelligence, it seems they are finally regaining confidence in their greatest and most foundational asset: creativity. That’s a breath of fresh air, because betting on creativity – the ability to solve problems in new and imaginative ways – is a hopeful stance. And the world, amid all the turmoil of Brexit, the climate emergency and a possible global recession, needs some hope.

In this chaotic period, "the industry will need to support each other every step of the way, celebrating one another’s artistry, bravery and smart thinking", Anna Arnell, creative partner of And Rising, says. That’s true, but before you ride off into the sunset, high-fiving each other for your bravery, pause and look around. Who is following behind this generation of leaders? Who will take up the mantle of creativity in your wake?

It’s been proven that creativity is an important driver of economic growth and innovation. Government figures show that the creative industries, including advertising and marketing, are the fastest growing of any sector and made a record-breaking contribution to the UK economy in 2017, topping £100bn. The World Economic Forum also lists creativity as the third most important skill for professionals to thrive in 2020.

Yet, even with such evidence of its value, creative education is in peril. Since the government’s introduction of the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) in 2010, which measures schools’ performance in traditional subjects including English, maths and the sciences, there has been a significant drop in the number of students taking creative subjects such as art, design, drama and music at GCSE and A level. Concurrently, the number of creative, arts and design teachers being trained has fallen.

As a result, more often creative education has become a luxury, not a right, and the disparity is most pronounced among students from minority and disadvantaged backgrounds. The Durham Commission on Creativity and Education, a collaboration between Arts Council England and Durham University, writes in its most recent report: "When students’ experience of subjects such as art and design, dance, drama and music is limited or indeed non-existent, they become the province of the privileged, whose families can afford to give them access to the experiences of art and culture.

"Young people from disadvantaged backgrounds and students attending state schools deserve rich and varied experiences of excellent arts and cultural education. To deny them this is not only educationally limiting but socially and morally unconscionable. It reduces the likelihood of students from disadvantaged backgrounds building the kinds of creative skills they need now and in the future."

This is not just a problem for the education sector to solve. If you work in the creative industry, it’s for you to address too. The industry is nothing without talent – that goes without saying – so the future loses its promise if the talent pool keeps shrinking. Perhaps the greatest threat to the profession all along has not been the rise of big data or robots taking over jobs, but rather missing out on a generation of people who could take the industry to new heights.

Night School by The Brooklyn Brothers and Yellowzine

In advertising, there are already some efforts to break down barriers to entry. Programmes such as Brixton Finishing School, D&AD’s New Blood Shift and The Brooklyn Brothers and Yellowzine’s Night School are trying to educate more diverse talent to enter the creative industry, but this task should not be the sole responsibility of a few. Attempts to close the creative education gap could also start much earlier, at school level. Then, once people from non-traditional backgrounds do get through the door, they need continued support and training from within companies to find their feet.

"This wave of brave creativity can, and must, open itself up to exciting new voices, as well as the grand masters," Medb Riordan, joint managing director of Academy, says. "Diversity is being pushed behind the camera, but we need to push harder. We are at the very beginning of this uphill climb."

As history has shown, when new voices break through, they can give birth to a creative renaissance. Industry leaders have claimed for the past couple of years – tentatively, hopefully – that we are on the edge of one. In 2019 there were hints of bravery, with brands such as Bodyform and Renault daring to tell bolder stories, but Riordan says the riskiest script she read last year never got made. To some degree that hesitancy is understandable – the future is full of uncertainty. But investing in the next generation, and giving them the chance to use the full power of their creativity, is a sure bet.


Creativity will always be, and has always been, the answer

Rob Doubal

Chief creative officer, McCann UK; co-president, McCann London

The greatest lesson in history is that we don’t tend to learn from the lessons in our history. The past still remains the greatest predictor of the future. There has always been change. The rate will always seem quicker than in previous generations. But it always has done. Our industry both drives, and is driven, by changes in our global culture.

We have entered the Anthropocene. Sustainability, AI, automation of opinion and identity. The geopolitical struggles arisen from mis-truths and manipulation. Algorithmic, real-time global mapping and societal modelling driving new economies. The inception of Google’s quantum computer inspires headlines of "all change" and the breaking of the internet. But, in reality, it will be years before it’s perfected and we feel its real effect. Our industry follows the same pattern. Things change quickly but slowly at the same time.

It has always felt that we are having a creative renaissance, while sitting on the edge of a precipice. The reports of highs and lows, boom and doom – as we respond to the threat of the rise of consultancies, changing role of the chief marketing officer, procurement-led pitches and data-driven efficiencies. With the rise of customer experience, brand and product moving closer together, our value comes from the creative ideas we conceive and the deployment of these ideas in defining a new future for our clients. All of which rely on creativity.

And, in that sense, nothing has changed.

Creativity will always be, and has always been, the answer. 2020 will be no different. Some will harness it to make great advertising and help businesses thrive. Others will panic and fall through the gap. This has been happening for years. The good news is that the value of pure creativity and the business it can drive has begun to be realised. Droga5’s sale is not the death of creativity. It’s the opposite. It’s proof that the City is willing to put numbers behind it.

So, rather than panic, better to adopt a stoical and impassioned, quiet pragmatism. Those who can embrace the ambiguity and hold their composure, trusting in the value of creativity, will prosper. Good ideas will always be valuable. We perhaps need to be more creative in how we frame their value. That’s all.

So 2020 will be just like 2019, but a bit later on in time.

Bring it on.


So prepare for a new era of creative collaboration

Anna Arnell

Creative partner, And Rising

Welcome to the roaring twenties. More of a fresh start than you could wish for in any other year, but much more to live up to. 

In France, the 1920s were referred to as "années folles", which meant "the crazy years". Jazz, art deco and many other cultural and artistic movements flourished.

This is what I see for the year 2020. Laying the foundation for creativity to be put at the forefront of our lives once more. Not just in advertising, but across every aspect of modern living. Because not only did the 1920s have artistic prosperity, it also had economic prosperity with the mass development of cars, phones, movies and various in-home electrical appliances. Without creativity, we wouldn’t have got there. And in 2020, without creativity, we won’t get there.

A few brave agencies and clients will lead the way, and others will follow. 2020 will be the beginning of our own "années folles" but in a much more positive way than we have seen in recent years.

The nation will want to put the past few years behind it. People will wake up this year and realise they are the only ones who can change their fate.

This will pave the way for new cultural, artistic, culinary and musical movements. Teamwork will become even more critical to the birth of a new creative era. Collaboration between people of different skillsets will birth these new movements. Writers mixing with AR developers. Engineers collaborating with painters. Musicians with TV series developers.

Our industry will need to work together every step of the way. Celebrating one another’s artistry, bravery and smart thinking. That’s what we get out of bed for. That’s what we get paid for. And that’s what makes 2020 really exciting for everyone walking the streets of this industry.

The creativity of people of colour will become even more critical – telling stories we’ve not heard, in ways we’ve never seen. Women will become even more powerful. 2020 will start with an inner belly growl, but it will end with one Lioness-style roar from the heart of the creative industries.


Stop playing safe. be bold and passionate

Medb Riordan

Managing director, Academy

Something’s stirring. A creative bravery is sneaking in, concealed like a bottle of vodka to be necked at a teenage disco. There’s been a lot of "playing it safe" over a number of years, a safety that’s been frustrating for both directors and creatives. But great successes in bold global work such as Libresse, Nike, Volkswagen and The New York Times means that clients are giving themselves permission to push the envelope a little bit more. To be political, to break taboos, to take risks. They’re finally seeing the reward in being brave.

In 2019, we saw clients killing off characters for Virgin Media, journalistic truth pushed for The New York Times, a traditional love story told from an untraditional perspective for Renault. Clients even poked (consensual) fun at their own customers in Barclaycard’s fantastic "The Crystal Barn".

There’s an excitement building around what’s next. The ongoing work for PlayStation feels like proper advertising back at work. Bold concepts executed by passionate creatives, with powerful directors at the helm (and "modern budgets", let it be said). Great strides are being made by agencies to create forums for discussion, for criticism. It’s on our phones, on our televisions, on the streets, on top of buildings and in toilet cubicles. Everything is on the table. There’s a hunger for environmental activism, big brands taking on big politics, Olympic superhumans and hooray for the uterus! Seriously, we are craving honesty.

The talent list is also changing. This new wave of brave creative can, and must, open itself to exciting new voices, as well as the grand masters. Diversity is being pushed behind the camera, but we need to push harder. We are at the beginning of this uphill climb. So much more needs to be done at grass-roots level – and for me, especially in our industry, this is as much about class as race and gender.

However, I must say that my favourite script this year was never made. "Too political", "not the right time". But you know what? It was written, it exists and, someday soon, I hope I see it. Or, better yet, I hope I make it.

Ultimately, we’re slowly getting back on track. My hope for 2020 is to know that every jury out there has a wealth of powerful, beautiful, exceptional work to pour over, to award highly, and confirm that advertising is, in fact, great again. Let’s hope our politics catch up.


And remember that a brilliant idea should always come first

Dan Treichel

Executive creative director, Saatchi & Saatchi

If 2019 was any indication, then it’s safe to say that 2020 is shaping up to be an exciting year. Really anything can happen.

Maybe Google will successfully convince all of our clients that the answer is always Google. Outdoor advertising will cease to exist until Google buys it, and then convinces our clients that outdoor is now one of the answers.

Perhaps data will take over. We will no longer make ads, and we’ll instead just run data. People walking by will be like: "Holy shit, that bar chart knows everything about me. I’ll buy that Greggs sausage roll."

Possibly every brief will be sent directly to Spike Jonze and he’ll solve it. I, for one, would love to see that happen.

Maybe AI will finally replace copywriters. Machine learning will just put "life", "live" or "living" on every brandline. "Greggs sausage rolls: Live the Greggs life. That’s living."

Or we’ll really get into the whole testing thing. We’ll go right to the source and get focus groups to think of ideas for us, and then they’ll focus group them right on the spot. It’ll be a one-stop shopping experience for risk-averse clients wanting ideas that tested in the green. Payroll will be reduced to the cost of some BLT sandwiches from Pret.

Kylie Jenner could conceivably start a new agency, and then we’ll all be out of jobs. You could go with the best agencies in the world and risk it, or you could go with @KylieJenner and get a guaranteed 155 million views and 1.5 million likes for an Insta post.

Or maybe 2020 won’t happen like that and we’ll once again remember that there’s no easy answer to solve advertising. We have all of these wonderful tools at our disposal but in the end we’ll still need the backing of a brilliant idea to best put these to use. In 2019, we saw so many incredible ideas so I’m excited to see what 2020 will bring. I think we still have some good years left before the machines take over.

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