Dispatches from the global village: agencyland’s new Europe
Lockdowns and remote working have transformed the media and advertising landscape. Still now, creative teams are meeting via Zoom, work is being won without face-to-face meetings, and agencies are developing global hiring approaches. What’s the reality on the ground for agencies? We handpicked six leaders from across Europe (Amsterdam, London, Paris, Stockholm and Vienna) to diagnose the moment and dream of what might come next.
Back in the 1960s media theorist Marshall McLuhan (of “the medium is the message” fame) coined the term ‘global village’ to describe where he thought mass media, communication and globalization were taking us. We would soon all be, he thought, knitted together in a continuous global web of commerce and culture that would span if not the whole globe, then most of it.
No development has shunted us more swiftly in the direction of McLuhan’s vision than the Covid-19 pandemic. Using our transport and haulage infrastructure, the virus communicated itself to every corner of the earth in a matter of months. In the ensuing lockdowns, the global communication web made itself clear when we watched the news bulletins and Tiger King as one.
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This wasn’t a blip. To this day, cities remain quieter than pre-pandemic levels and many workers continue to log on from bedrooms. For marketers and advertisers, this is blessing and curse in tandem: they can find talent and clients all over the world; but the close, collaborative, relationships that creativity relies on remain tricky.
In the global village, the industry’s spatial parameters have changed. Our panellists are all dialling in from major European cities, but one upshot of this dynamic is cities’ receding importance. “There’s always been this prejudice in the advertising industry that talent is concentrated in big cities – London, Amsterdam, Paris, Milan,” says Léoda Esteve of Marcel Worldwide. “That prejudice has been torn apart. The last few years of remote work has allowed us to pick talent from anywhere in the world ... Talent is absolutely everywhere and creative power is expanding, which is quite exciting for us, as creative agencies.”
“It’s not about a city anymore – maybe a region, but not the city itself,” agrees Michael Ksela of Scoop and Spoon. And even regional differences seem to have receded in importance. “Remember the early days of the mobile phone?” says sonic branding agency Sixième Son’s Michael Boumendil. “The first question was always, ‘Where are you?’ That’s the question again now. When you’re connecting, ‘I’m in Paris,’ ‘I’m in Tel Aviv,’ ‘I’m in Manchester’. But nobody cares where you are any more. That’s what really makes us the global village that we’ve always talked about.”
Life in two dimensions
Unfortunately, as Media.Monks’ Nora Henriksson puts it, “a Zoom call is the worst-ever marketing for an experience in marketing because it’s very one-dimensional. Zoom calls are just so unreal.”
If remote, hybrid and networked working are here to stay, it falls to creatives and technologists to build platforms that, at the very least, soften the edges of these experiences – or (ideally) replace them with something less miserable. Our hopes here have become wrapped up in the industry’s current cause celebre: might the metaverse, with immersive digital experiences, save us from the humdrum of Zoom and Teams?
“One thing that we’ll look back on this moment and think is: why did we spend so much time looking at our phones and screens?” asks Nick Chapin, of Vice’s agency Virtue. “The metaverse is not about more time on screen. It’s about a layer on top of reality that should help us look at our screens less. In a way, we’ve been catapulted forward, but we’re also still at the at the end of a different era. We need these technologies to become embedded in real life and to supplement it rather than be half-baked approximations of what we used to have.”
‘If you’re going to have a global village then I want to know the village’
Whether or not we can make something better of Zoom and its descendants, the physical dislocation of workers is a problem that creatives are just starting to solve. “Nobody cares that we’re not in the same country” says Boumendil, but the situation does demand a “new flexibility and new agility” from agencyland’s “new network of unique expertise.” And that’s changed recruitment, says Henriksson, with agencies “looking even more at people who don’t have one expertise, but who are curious and collaborative.”
But for creatives in particular, a problem remains. “You need to be inspired as a creative,” says APS’s Lennart Wienecke. It’s amazing, and good for one’s carbon footprint, to be able to build satellite teams all over the world and have them contribute from wherever they are. But creatives rely on their impressions of a place – whether that be a city, or a client’s factory, or the outside world at large – to inform their work. “If you’re going to have a global village then I want to know the village,” says Wienecke. Dialling in from outside the village just doesn’t cut it.
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