Pressure makes diamonds

Fergus Stoddart
By Fergus Stoddart | 18 December 2023

It’s no secret that our industry is under pressure - more than ever. I know we don’t like to talk about it, face our reality, but the reason we exist is being challenged and in 2024 that challenge will grow, potentially exponentially.

Let’s break some of our industry trends down.

The mystery of creativity has been out of the box for a while now. Thousands of creators and influencers every day remind us that as an industry we can’t own creativity – we are not the only original thinkers, the funny ones, the weird ones – the place to go for creative.  It’s happening all around us and it’s in our faces day in day out – ideas that make us smile, laugh, think and act and they’re coming from so many different sources. The democratisation of creativity is happening around us – thanks for that TikTok!   

Plus, as brands deal with the ever-increasing creative production needs to deliver so many different brand experiences through the customer journey, we are seeing more and more insourcing of both creative and media services. Weirdly enough, internal creative teams seem happy to operate without the mystery of the agency big reveal and profit from leveraging the arsenal of martech tools to drive marketing automation and get closer to their data.

Oh yeah and then there’s AI and the likelihood that the production work that paid for us to think big will be eroded at pace. We can expect AI to be ingested into every creative and martech tool making our lives quicker and easier to produce creative assets and content. Good creative production at volume will be table stakes.

I could add the big four consultants eating our lunch, off shoring or creative automation tools but I don’t want us to get too depressed. Needless to say, there’s clear prevailing winds that continue to bear down on our industry and we’d be fools to ignore them.

Then we add the economic headwinds: the stiff “Cost of Living” breeze that’s seeping through the doors of our clients and gathering strength for 2024.

So... should we all be running for the hills? Hell no. Far from it. Pressure Makes Diamonds.

Here‘s my view on how agencies should be dealing with this storm;   

  • Focus on different shaped ideas. Don’t think digital campaigns or TVCs – with so many tools, content formats, tech, experiences and channels to play with, look for stand-out creative ideas that are non-traditional, out the box ideas that work across owned and earned media as well as paid. Don’t be predictable - Remember we are problem solvers. We are lateral thinkers. We are rule breakers.

  • Blend CX thinking and content into every idea. Always think full funnel, ensure that every creative idea is strong enough that it can be pulled down through customer journey using content, data, tech and media to form beautifully effective brand experiences.

  • Media thinking – Creative media solutions may not always touch your creative team but can often be more effective for your clients. Soak up media trends, innovative formats and data driven executions and work through how they can get your clients an unfair advantage.

  • Partner hard – Whether it’s the clients’ inhouse team, media or PR agency partner or external thinkers – allow others to contribute and build on ideas or the final production. Bring in diverse people, different disciplines, points of view and industry experts to make the work more interesting and robust. Build out a stable of strong regular partners.

  • Embrace projects and the consulting model - Don’t try and do everything - Focus on where you add the most value – listen and look to find and solve commercial business challenges with communications - focus on strategy and ideas not implementation. Clients like to insource and implement where they can. Don’t fight it. Get in and get out, in a thoughtful way, around clients' needs but very deliberate about your role. Don’t worry about fully formed ideas,  get in a room, short sharp sessions – collaborate and ideate and move through the feedback loop fluently.

  • Commercial creativity – Change your thinking from account managers to business managers. Brands need solutions to their marketing problems, not just creative advertising thinking. Be laser focussed on creative solutions that that have commercial impact. Forget about vanity creativity, your portfolio or awards. What’s going to move the dial for your clients?

Dust or Diamonds? Yes, challenges lie ahead, but we are a resilient bunch and change is in our make-up, especially independent agencies blessed with our nimble DNAs.

Edge is 20 years old now and the only constant in that time has been change. It’s adapt or die for our industry but the prize for those who do is still substantial.

So, rest up for the New Year, enjoy the break and best wishes to us all for 2024.

Fergus Stoddart​, Founding Partner ‑ Growth & Partnerships, Edge

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