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Are you ready to help your client through its 'Nike moment'?

Even at an event as daring as the D&AD Festival, choosing ‘the future of the industry’ as the subject of a talk is rather a bold move. Per Pedersen, Grey’s global creative chairman, even admitted as much when he took to the stage recently. It’s particularly brave of course, because we often hear that, in fact, our industry has no future at all.

Pedersen quickly called bullshit on that theory, however, as well as various other topics that he went on to discuss. He concluded that the amazing work seen at the festival goes to show that the future of the industry could be bright. That the industry is very much still relevant – but maybe not as we know it.

The next steps

So what does this mean for agencies? It means that we need to adapt and respond. And, as Pedersen says, not just right now, or when we face a crisis, but every year - whether the previous iteration was successful or not. In our industry, change is the only constant.

It’s also abundantly clear that the entire industry needs to become more adaptable, more diverse and more considerate of our people’s health and wellbeing. But there have been plenty of talks and articles – at D&AD Festival and beyond – that can do those topics more justice than I will be able to do in a couple of paragraphs here now. I do however, want to pick up on two areas of Pedersen’s talk that particularly resonated, and which I believe should be debated and represented more forcefully by agencies of all shapes and sizes.

Stupid process kills creativity

We’ve bemoaned agency structures for years, yet little is being done to rectify the situation. In his ‘rules’ for a better agency future, Pedersen spoke about “unleashing creativity instead of managing it” and to me that boils down to trust, unity and simplicity.

Trust empowers people on your team to feel like they have the freedom to think differently, take responsibility and not be afraid of failure at every turn. Trust empowers your client too, giving you a longer leash. If clients have been burnt before, if they believe you’ve deliberately misled them just to make a quick buck, or have already faced the ‘pitch and switch’ despite being assured otherwise, then how can they buy in to your creative process, which often comes under client scrutiny at the most inopportune time?

Unity, because this isn’t an individual sport. Egos need to be checked at the door. Complex business challenges tend to require intelligent multi-disciplinary solutions. That means everyone in your team pulling together and stepping up in their area when the time comes, not fighting for breath amongst their colleagues, or having them feel that their idea is always being driven by the same person because they tend to shout loudest.

And simplicity because this industry loves nothing more than loading a project with people and process until the work collapses under its own weight. “If you can’t share the taxi, there are too many people on your project,” Pedersen said. “You can run the biggest account in the world with six people.” I’m not sure I’d go that far, but I understand the sentiment.

Have the structures in place that allow brilliant minds to come together as a clearly defined team from the start. It eliminates waste, frustration and confusion, and for the client, it gives them a clear understanding of what they’re buying, who’s going to help them on the journey, and the confidence to keep going whenever the going gets tough.

Stop kicking the can

Because the going will get tough. Clients will need to be brave and agencies need to foster an environment where that facilitates that.

In addition to the structural process mentioned above, this also means being able to think more strategically. That might mean thinking and acting more like consultants, but always with a creative point of view. Pedersen stressed that “great work solves all problems, and we should let nothing get in the way of that,” and it is our belief and investment in creativity that sets us apart and stops clients taking everything in-house.

Where we as an industry do need to improve, however, is thinking in the long-term about more provocative brand strategies. Pedersen contends that too often agencies are still doing ‘stunts and tactical shit’ that may win them awards, but really does nothing for the client other than push their problems a tiny bit further down the road.

I believe that those who will see the most success going forward are the agencies and groups that offer clear, multi-disciplined strategic thinking. At some point, every brand will have their ‘Nike, Gillette, or New York Times moment’, Pedersen says. They will all be forced to face their problems and will need trusted advisors to help them when they do.

So ‘the future of the industry’ is indeed a big, complex question. But if it can be boiled down to ‘brave clients committing to brave strategies,’ as Pedersen alludes, then you better be sure you’re equipped to embrace that bravery.  

Peter Reid is the chief executive of MSQ Partners.

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