“The times they are a changin',” so sings Bob Dylan on my somewhat whimsical afternoon playlist. And for our industry, indeed they are.
In my mind, there are four dominant factors at work.
Firstly, both clients and agencies are being held to account like never before – with every dollar spent and campaign launched being measured and measured and measured.
Secondly, the deep-pocketed consultancies are here and have a taste for the marketing buck and bring with them their expertise in processes, systems integrations and driving profitability.
Thirdly, the growth of in-house capabilities – and yes, some high-profile ones have recently closed, but let’s not bury our heads in the sand and pretend that this isn’t a thing. It is and will keep growing.
Finally, the industry’s obsession with finding effectiveness via the plumbing of advertising and not via ideas. In recent years, creativity has unquestionably been sidelined as media teams have found new ways to get results by simply putting average work into more relevant spaces.
When all these factors are combined, it seems hard to argue that we’re still in Kansas, Dorothy. And it is perhaps the creative department that is least prepared for Oz.
A renewed commercial focus
I question the preparedness of creative departments because each of the factors above inevitably make the industry more business and effectiveness focused. If that’s the case, there needs to be a discussion on how those changes affect the creative workforce. Because I suspect many of you, just like me, have spent much of your careers only ever hunting awards and never really being asked to consider the client’s bottom line.
Here at iCrossing we talk a lot about what it means to be a growth partner and a business growth focused creative. Whether it materially affects the skillset needed, and if so, does this change of focus provide opportunities for less typically celebrated creative people?
Alex Bogusky, upon his recent return to CPB+, said the agency would be going through a process in which they would be “redefining creative excellence.” Whatever that will ultimately mean for CPB, I’m not privy to, but a personal watershed moment came for me when I got closer to UX and UI.
These hugely important disciplines are undoubtedly some of the most underappreciated aspects of our industry, but for someone with a big agency, award show background, it took me quite some time to appreciate the skills.
However, in an effectiveness focused world, these are the talents that can have a huge impact on client business. For example, we recently showed a client a simple UX/UI change to their homepage that was predicted to make the business $14m more next year. That’s no small potatoes and surely worthy of celebration.
Opportunities for every skillset
And beyond UX/UI there’s a host of, let’s call them the 'creatives in the trenches' that do great and very valuable work but will never win awards for their efforts.
Would the industry taking a more robust approach to business growth inevitably result in a more equally rewarded workforce? One that would lead to a new generation of creative leaders being picked from beyond from the ranks of the biggest award winners. Maybe this would be a strength, we all know winning awards isn’t always a direct translation for “strong and stable leadership skills.”
I might even argue that a change like this could actually help creatives. Ultimately giving creatives that want it more opportunities to really drive organizations. In short, could a more business-focused creative department ultimately mean more creative director’s becoming managing director’s?
Change of focus needs a change of recognition
Finally, if there is a move to a more business orientated creativity then that will need to be reflected in award shows. Perhaps the Clios and Cannes will create categories for big, populist yet memorable campaigns that consumers loved and really drove client businesses.
Truthfully, I don’t know the answers, but I do believe there are questions out there that creative departments will need to answer in the coming years. It seems that the real world has perhaps finally caught up a little with the halcyon and somewhat whimsy-filled days of the creative department.
Still, it’ll be a cold day in hell before I wear a damn tie to work.
Alistair Robertson is vice-president, executive creative director at iCrossing, Central Region.