Perspectives - Justin Graham M&C Saatchi - Bolting into 2022

By AdNews | 8 December 2021
Justin Graham. Photo by Tim Levy.

AdNews is following the WFH Diaries with a series of Perspectives, asking two questions: What did you learn in 2021 and what are you looking forward to in 2022? We've also encouraged the industry to glam, dress for the best, and face next year with optimism.

This article first appeared in the November-December 2021 AdNews magazine.

Justin Graham, group CEO, M&C Saatchi Australia:

For our work, the biggest challenge was that as an industry, we were often responding to the same urgent, functional messaging briefs — and the work reflected that. We were in speed mode, with most campaigns needing to solve the same problems and deliver the same messages, which were beginning to wash over consumers.

At a time when our clients are encouragingly holding more power than ever in the C-Suite, often driving the growth agenda for their brands (as they should), they are also being asked to respond to the hugely disruptive and potentially divisive social, wellness, and political issues of our time.

Someone wise (our Chief Strategy Officer, Emily Taylor) once told me — it only takes 66 days for a behaviour to become a habit. And boy, has our industry developed a few during the past 18 months.

Personally, and I think for our people, the challenge was the general feelings of uncertainty and disconnection.

As we have offices in Sydney, Melbourne, and Auckland, our people were all having different experiences at different times. Sydney would be celebrating restrictions lifting, while our Melbourne colleagues were facing a 16-week lockdown.

One week I was in Auckland visiting our Countdown client, and over the next few weeks I couldn’t go into our office because it was out of my 10km radius. Then a few months later, Sydney was “free” again but Auckland was plunged into stage-three lockdown.

This stop-start nature of the year, and uncertainty around further restrictions inhibiting us from excitement around future plans disrupted any sort of flow and kept us disconnected from each other.

2021 kept us all on bungee cords, and every so often COVID-19 would bounce us back to a baseline that we were running from at every opportunity.

And now, it seems the cords are slowly coming off, and we are all looking around, unstrapping ourselves from the rope before bolting into 2022.

What did you learn from 2021?

I learnt that our people are incredibly resilient.

The experience throughout COVID-19 has been guiding so many people’s situations.

Whether they’ve had to move to be closer to family, had to go through the turmoil of extended quarantines, have been forced to come home from living overseas, or have even come to work for M&C after losing a job in a different industry due to lockdowns.

Our people have lost an element of freedom and choice, and we are absolutely ensuring that freedom and choice are front of mind moving forward, to make up for lost time and enable our people to live their best work lives.

What are you looking forward to next year?

Way back when, it was Finance that led us out of the GFC.

In the last year, HR led us through the pandemic.

Moving forward, creativity is going to steamroll a path forward.

It's less about looking forward because we are already in it, we are reconstructing an M&C Saatchi that presents the best possible environment for creativity to flourish.

Creating the physical and virtual environments to enable it, connecting and building relationships to make it better, leading with humanity to inspire it, and applying our insights and learnings to new tools and technologies to facilitate it.

Our Sydney team are going to be moving into our incredible new office on Macquarie street early in the year, a space that has been especially created with connection, creativity, inspiration and focus in mind.

I’m looking forward to “different” and “unexpected”. Micro-moments and small chance encounters that you can’t replicate on a Zoom call. Overhearing someone’s conversation and (un)apologetically butting in, or running into someone you haven’t seen in a year and starting a new project with them.

We have also spent a lot of time through lockdown focusing on wellbeing, asking M&Cers to give themselves permission to work at their own pace, and we are looking forward to continuing this sentiment and creating space for people.

I’m looking forward to our teams coming together, and the magnetic feeling of being able to create together again. Oh, and diving into podcasts on the commute.

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