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Four New Year's resolutions creative agencies should execute in 2017

The marketing sector can be a complicated place as new marketing tools and techniques are launched, almost on a weekly basis. Powered by The Drum Network, this regular column invites The Drum Network's members to demystify the marketing trade and offer expert insight and opinion on what is happening in the marketing industry today that can help your business tomorrow.

As we enter the new year and the prospect of a fresh start begins to take effect, many take the opportunity to re-evaluate and improve their personal and professional lives. With this in mind, we have identified four pain points we feel agencies need to address in 2017 and beyond.

1) The language amnesty

We need an amnesty for language. Business-jargon is nothing new, but in the agency world we are reaching unprecedented levels of nonsense and it’s doing no one any favours.

The fact that the use of jargon makes for lazy brains and hides uninspired thinking is well documented. Every industry has a unique set of terminologies and phrases, but marketing is a practice occasionally derided for fluff and hyperbole and so it’s imperative that we keep ourselves in check.

First things first, will all extravagantly-named agencies please step forward, enter the confession box, and admit your sins against the marketing profession for doing your bit to confuse the hell out of us all.

Whether you’re an acronym lover (ABCD/Y&Z anyone?) or an abstract adjective and noun advocate (Homosapien Pufferfish maybe?), spare a thought for your clients, your receptionists and the wider world who stumble over every syllable. Jamming together previous brand names isn’t exactly a master-class in the art of successful M&A now is it –Dixons Carphone being a prime example from the client-side world. New year, new me, new name? Go on – give it a thought.

Next on the list, it’s the portmant-oh-FFS-not-another-one. If you find yourself using words such as as ‘vrloggers’ and ‘ideation’ frequently without feeling at least the smallest urge to punch yourself in the mouth, you need help. ‘Smarketing’, ‘retailtainment’ and ‘phygital’ have no place in anyone’s vernacular, and we’ve obviously heard enough of Brexit to last a lifetime – which, ironically, is the length of time we’re going to be knee deep in this messy new world.

‘Disruption’ and the obsession with the often-exaggerated world of over-funded, unprofitable start-ups is another real bugbear of ours. It’s as is if the business world has forgotten that other people sometimes set-up new businesses and that businesses operate in a continually competitive environment. PESTLE analysis has been around since 1967 and these factors will always have huge influence over the performance of any business. You’ll notice that the T stands for ‘technology’; new technology has and always will be a source of competitive advantage. It just so happens that Moore’s Law is still in full effect and shows no signs of slowing. To pull out an old classic, the only constant is change – it’s just things are just changing a bit quicker than they used to…

2) The difference between a methodology and a proposition

This is a tricky one, but hear us out. There are a number of processes used by agencies that are undeniably effective at creating better outputs and outcomes; design thinking, agile and lean start-up are all great principles and methods created by clever people.

But, and here it comes, these methods are not a proposition in their own right. Too often people think that hanging their hat on the methodology du jour is enough. It’s not. Even if it’s the methodology you live and die by, there’s lots of other stuff that goes into the making of a compelling and therefore successful proposition. Your client experience perhaps? Oh, and your team. How about the way you create value? What’s your opinion on the market and particular categories? And let’s not forget about the tangible outputs a client can expect when they engage with you.

If there’s one thing we’ve learnt over the years, it’s that creative businesses often struggle to seamlessly combine the ‘what’ with the ‘why’ – focusing on the ‘how’ is not a remedy! Strip things back to your basic deliverables, how you impact a business, and then build out from there.

3) Burst the bubble

As we sit here and survey the new political landscape that is unfolding in front of us moving into 2017, we’re certain that the shockwaves felt across London’s creative scene immediately after the results of Brexit will leave a sour aftertaste for some time.

After all, this was the campaign that everyone thought had the dead cert outcome of remain and hence no-one would – or thought it necessary to – touch. Meanwhile the Leave campaign turned to a 25 year-old content creator who left BMB to create one of the biggest political upsets since John Prescott punched that bloke who tried to make an omelette on his face.

All of the data, the experts, the planners and strategists failed to see, or rather failed to understand, huge chunks of people living on our Isles. The polls have never been so wrong on a series of major political events: the UK General Election, Brexit and the US Presidential Election.

It’s never been more apparent that London based agencies and Londoners in general are living in a bubble. As Matt Braddy, former chief marketing officer at Just Eat put it, “as professional marketers who are paid to understand customers, we really should have done better”.

There’s never been more pertinent a need to show that agencies, and those based in London in particular, still ‘get’ the population and the individuals who were so badly misinterpreted in the run up to the referendum. Five regional agencies have certainly struck whilst the iron is hot, forming a network known as Hyperlocal Everywhere. While it’s dangerous for brands to become everything to everyone, there undoubtedly has to be a shift away from London-centric thinking and an exploration of how to better understand the entire population through accurate and perceptive analysis.

4) Culture, culture, culture

One of the most bastardised words when it comes to agency propositions (“align with culture” anyone?) needs to start being utilized in its truest sense.

It was announced in December that agencies are spending more and more money than ever before on freelancers. While this may be fantastic news for all of the come-and-go coders and creatives out there, it does raise a concern that – if freelance is the future – retaining high-quality talent and building a healthy working culture could become an even more pressing industry issue.

Aside from retaining the best, what about having the right mix and weighting of people and cultures? When you have people like Ann Simonds (General Mills’ chief marketing officer) insisting agencies must be staffed with at least 50% women and 20% people of colour or risk being dropped / not invited to pitch again, then there’s further reasons to worry for many agencies on the recruitment and talent retention battlegrounds.

The chief marketing officer of Hewlett Packard shares a similar sentiment, stating – somewhat obviously but still astutely – "we are more likely to create solutions that amaze our customers if our workforce represents the communities we serve”. As an industry, there is a stark imbalance in many teams and it’s not an issue that’s going to solve itself. Will quotas become the norm? Will agencies rise up to the diversity challenge? We predict that change will be slow.

While many agencies have targets in place for diversity, we’re seeing other positive signs that some are putting their money where their mouth is when it comes to representing their communities and creating positive working cultures in a very different manner. 18 Feet & Rising becoming the first creative business to be awarded with B-Corp status is a powerful move and a revolutionary one at that. “Pursuing social good alongside profit” is, we hope, something we’ll be seeing a lot more of in the future.

Ben Ingle is marketing manager and Tom Ewing is strategy lead at The Future Factory.

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Ben Ingle and Tom Ewing

All by Ben Ingle