The tech v creativity debate: agencies need to create 'ideal conditions' for talent

Is the technology marketers now have at their fingertips making them more creative, or is data making advertising dull: that was one of the many big questions posed to marketers at The Drum’s ongoing Digital Transformation Festival this week.

“I’ve always seen technology as an enabler rather than the answer,” mused David Alberts, ex-Grey veteran and chairman and co-founder at Been There Done That, explained during a no-holds-barred panel discussion on the subject.

“Technology removes friction, allowing information to get to creative thinkers as quickly and as simple as possible.”

Charlotte Willcocks, creative strategist at Impero — which works with brands like Beefeater Gin and Primark — said she always thinks of technology as something that opens up the creative process.

“You are at the mercy of instant feedback,” she said. “It’s made [agencies] work harder to make better creative decisions in everyday life, snapping people out of their advertising bubble.”

While the debate between data versus creativity has long moved away from being binary in nature, the experts agreed that the recent coronavirus outbreak is forcing adland to embrace tech a little more.

Spurred on by the belief that agency models no longer met client creative needs, Alberts set up Been There Done That in 2014. A community of 180 chief strategic and chief creative officers, it was designed to help marketers deliver solutions through the collective expertise, experience and intuition provided by the community.

“In regard to 'technology as kit' we've been working for the last five years, we've been working with these experts -remotely anyway - that's our business model,” said Alberts. “Our whole [proposition] is about creating the ideal conditions for great thinkers to work and technology has enabled them to work wherever they want to whenever they want to.”

In light of recent weeks, he said “people have actually realised the potential of technology and remote working, rather than seeing either as a ‘nice to have.’

"For the way we work, the need to travel, the need to have time to think on your own, rather than groupthink, where everyone comes round together. So I think this is one of the positive step changes that's going to happen as a result of what we see in the world today," he said.

For those born out of the digital era, these kinds of conversations are superfluous. "I find the sheer panic quite amusing,” admitted Willcocks. “For those of us who grew up on MSN, this is just how we've lived our lives. We’ve always been in front of a screen. Digital natives make up quite a lot of the workforce.”

While ten years ago, most traditional ad agencies would have cited creativity as their "superpower," the panel agreed that many agencies and creative strategists were now billing themselves based on their tech skills.

“We are started to move towards that kind of side of things,” Willcocks said of Impero.

“To me, data can be really exciting. We are trying to move towards a space where we have our own IP around research and the kind of thinking about what does the data mean? It's not just a number, but where does that sit in culture. And a lot of our work is surrounded by kind of relevancy within culture.”

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