Perspective - A hard year with lots of lessons

By Brian Merrifield | 13 December 2023
Brian Merrifield.

The AdNews end of year Perspectives, looking back at 2023 and forward to next year.

It’s hard to look at 2023 through a kaleidoscope of optimism. There are so many contradictions affecting everyone in the world this year: 

  • Misinformation and lies reared their head in politics once again, this time torpedoing a modest step in letting Indigenous people inform policy that impacts them. 
  • Corporations continue to have record profits while individually, we’re all feeling it financially with rising interest rates. 
  • The repetitive news cycle sways opinions even though trust in news and media is low. 
  • Social media continues to make us more aware of the many horrible things going on across the planet – at a time when we should put down the device and go shoot some hoops. 

Generally, just a whole bunch of yuck going on in the world that we’re all trying to navigate or avoid. Amongst it all, our agency Common Ventures has grown up. After 10 years as an independent agency, we know who we are. Like most independents, it takes a while to find your true voice and in this weird world, and we think the world needs more honesty and a bit more collaboration.  

Honesty builds trust, fosters effective communication, promotes personal growth, contributes to ethical behaviour and social harmony, aids in problem-solving, reduces stress, and supports cultural and social progress. However, it's important to recognise that how honesty is expressed matters. This is why we say we ‘Make good’; it’s constructive while empathetic, helping to ensure that we at Common V contribute positively to relationships and society as a whole. 

In my role as ECD, I need to have a point of reference for everything happening in the world – I like to think I trawl through the mire of the internet to distill as much as possible. But it’s probably just a way to appease my undiagnosed Gen-X, ADHD brain. My content consumption is eclectic to the extreme – a rollercoaster of emotion ranging from war, in-depth documentaries, independent journalists, James Webb Space Telescope and comedians. 

Top of my watchlist: 

  • Rewatching the Adam Curtis BBC Documentary Can't Get You Out Of My Head. It explains so many things in today’s world – exploring the intertwining forces of power, technology, and ideology throughout the 20th and 21st centuries across China, the UK, Russia, and the US.
  • Dudesy is the first podcast written, produced and edited by an AI that uses the long-term friendship of the two hosts and all of their personal data to learn and create a podcast with the goal to create a better show than the last one. 
  • Martin North has the most granular take on the Australian housing market fuelled by incredible data, tracking mortgage stress down to postcode level. 
  • Ground News rates articles based on bias and actively shows you stuff that may be on your blind spot. 

I’m also trying to keep abreast of what’s happening in the industry - this year one of the standout articles for me is Fear And Loathing On La Croisette: Agency Bosses Tell All On Budgets Battle. This came out after Cannes 2023 and the thing that was confirmed for me was this quote: 

“Two commonly voiced complaints from creative agencies were around delays for decisions on pitches and the number of clients seeking to rerun old work rather than commission something new.” 

Pitch delay is getting worse, but I don’t think delays are limited to pitches. Projects feel like they’re taking longer to sell in and keep sold. I think adjusting your agency approach as best you will help mitigate lasting effects: 

  • Be collaborative and not adversarial  
  • Fight for budget but stay efficient 
  • Present fewer ideas that are simplified but more thought out. 

Also part of that quote, I can confirm that rerunning work is happening more and more. The main reason could be budget but I suspect that creative is less seen and/or remembered in our fleeting content-dense world we live in. So it’s no wonder clients want to run creative more than once. We try to counter too much repetition by shooting more initially so that second-round creative variations aren’t same same. 

In this soft market, it’s important to be aware of the risks to your agency so that you’re able to mitigate and maintain them. However, to grow, I think it’s really important to change how you work with your clients wherever you can. I see ‘Ways of working’ as a growth trend to capitalise on right now and into the future. Blurring the lines between agency and client has never been more important. You only have to look at the recently announced arrangement Telstra has, creating the new bespoke ‘+61’ agency with independent Bear Meets Eagle on Fire paired with TBWA and OMD. An ‘equal partner’ model that proves different ways of working is being taken seriously. 

Across past marketing podcasts I’ve watched, I can see that clients want it more and more - a true partner between agency and client is extremely important, providing trusted consultation including product innovation; employee value propositions; brand strategy; and campaign development. Collaboration should be a core business value and to truly be collaborative we need to be open to changing the way you work from client to client. 

Next year we’ll be paying close attention to how AI affects ways of working and enhances collaboration. It’s a technology that’s in its infancy with everyone having their takes, both terrible and prolific. The way I see it, having an openness to change the way we work fosters adaptation. But we all need to be honest about how we are integrating AI into the way we all work. Embracing AI and what it can do can drive better creativity but learning where it fails highlights areas for innovation or legislation. 

All in all I think 2023 is one of those hard years with lots of lessons. 2024 is the year to put what we learnt this year into practice.  

Brian Merrifield is the Executive Creative Director of Common Ventures 

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