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Reflecting on 2020: lessons learned in an extraordinary year

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The Mission Group review the positive lessons gained from the challenging year of 2020.

It’s fair to say 2020 has been a year like no other for the world and by default the marketing industry. But among all the challenges there have also been many things worth celebrating.

In an industry that is always evolving, the global pandemic has spurred us on to be more agile, more creative and more inventive than before, and there have been plenty of lessons learned along the way.

I think that the experience of lockdown has been an awakening. I don’t think I will ever go back to five days in the office with a four-hour Brighton to London daily commute. School drop off and pick-ups are now back as my domain rather than the au pair’s and I love the walk to school chatting to my son, talking to the neighbours, the shop owners – I’ve really learnt inspiration can come from anywhere. I’ve learnt sourdough making takes far too long for me to make on a weekly basis! But I’ve also discovered my degree was perfect for certain home-schooling lessons! And that chatting to colleagues in person can easily be replicated by doing so over Zoom/Teams calls and at a much more personal level as we all meet each other’s kids, puppies, babies etc, which goes a teeny way towards making up for not being able to talk to them in person. One day, one day…

Talking to my colleagues across The Mission Group (by Zoom!), everyone has something different to share about what the extraordinary events of 2020 have taught them about our industry and ourselves. Here are just a few:

Dr Simon Moore, chief executive officer, Innovationbubble: “Clients have admitted they are using video calls to gauge the more ‘human side‘ of their suppliers. So, the non-business chats, the peek into the supplier homes, the appearance of errant children and animals is reassuring them that ‘this is someone like me‘ – which is creating a more emotional engagement point beyond just ‘what you can do for them‘ – it’s also about seeing what you are going to be like to work with.”

Lu-Lyn Chang, co-founder and chief marketing officer, Bray Leino Splash, Singapore: “Embrace the change, try something new. While the pandemic brought on many challenges, it also presented us with the opportunity to get ourselves out of our comfort zones to try new ways of working and playing. It was therefore a total delight to see our people rally together to go on ‘virtual walks’ as well as learning quickly how to conduct our first livestream event in China. This has really brought home that adage, ‘tough times don’t last, but tough people do’.”

Vicki Saunders, deputy managing director, Krow London: “2020 has taught us all a valuable lesson; when it comes to producing powerful and engaging brand campaigns, anything is possible. In the last nine months, we’ve seen brands and agencies overcome the sorts of challenges that have, in the past, prevented great work from ever seeing the light of day. We’ve seen some extraordinary examples of agility, flexibility and responsiveness, and behind each of these is a client and agency that dug-deep and found a way to overcome huge barriers to get the work out there. What I hope we will carry into 2021 is our industry’s new-found energy and passion to conceive and deliver top-notch communications, no matter what.”

Dave Mullen, executive creative director, Story: “As they say, don’t turn up to an earthquake with a dustpan and brush. If the disaster that is 2020 has taught us anything in the creative department, it is ‘be prepared!‘ Be prepared for things to take longer. Be prepared to plan in minute detail. Be prepared for those plans to change, sometimes dramatically, at the 11th hour. Be prepared to roll up your sleeves and wash your hands regularly. Be prepared not to wash your hands of things, when the going gets tough. 2021, prepare for change!”

Clare Cooper, director, Speed Communications: “Trust is the biggest thing I think many of us have learned in 2020. Trust your team that they’re OK and will ask for help if they need it. Trust that we can, and have, delivered award-winning work as a remote team. Trust your instincts that if a client goes quiet or changes the brief, something isn’t quite right. Trust that a bit of time away from the screen won’t end in disaster and may help you come up with a better plan.”

Claire Dobbs, chief executive, Solaris Health: “The way that our team has gelled and worked together in the face of this crisis has been quite eye-opening and incredibly satisfying – I’m quite proud of us all. Even though we haven’t seen one another in many months, I feel a tremendous sense of team solidarity.

”In terms of how the pandemic could impact our industry for the better – I think that positivity, kindness and empathy is likely to be top of mind for any campaign where it can be kept real – there isn’t room for anything exploitative, but campaigns will do well to tap into this approach authentically.”

David Dent, planning director, April Six: “It hasn’t been easy for everyone, not all our staff have large gardens to spend time in or are surrounded by a loving family. We had a team put in place to promote mental wellbeing last year and the support they have offered has been amazing. There’s also been a realisation that the brave front people put up in an office environment is often a veneer. The pandemic has really brought this home and helped the team to come together, which has made us feel that we will all exit this situation in a much better place.”

Dan Burman, chief executive officer, Chapter: “When challenges hit, that’s the real measure of the people around you. From the client that phones to see how they can help you, to the person who creates a platform to give voice to other creatives that aren’t fortunate enough to have jobs. From the person who rings every member of the team just to check they’re OK, to producing work that has an authentic and distinctive voice when everything starts to sound the same. Maybe we’ve all learnt a little more humanity while being apart.”

Chris O Donoghue, chief executive officer, Mongoose: “2020 has been the year of listening, self-awareness and intuition. Data, insights and traditional behaviour modelling are all still relevant but the waves of feelings, reasons, protests, negativity and positivity have come thicker and faster than ever this year. So we, as marketeers, have had to call on our more innate skills. To read the room (and the stats). To listen clearly, not to work in silos, remove personal bias, and trust our gut. The risk is high, but so is the reward.”

Stephen Roycroft, managing director, Krow Ireland: “When the matrix is reset and the traditional ways of working reworked, we’ve found whole new ways of solving clients’ problems. One of our ways of addressing any creative or strategic block is to stop walking our own well-worn neural paths and hit a reset. Do something hardwired a novel way – try lacing your shoes a completely different way, a new approach; pull your socks up and get back to the problem you’ve been kicking along the path.”

Kate Cox, chief executive officer, Bray Leino: “2020 has been a reminder of how important a brand is and why ongoing investment is important. The brands that did well this year (and were not looked upon cynically) were the ones that had always had a brand presence or point of view, while the ones that just turned it on this year are the ones that people felt were trying to make a profit from the pandemic. More brands are now thinking about what people want to hear rather than just banging their own drum – perhaps being more considerate or having more empathy with the situation and how people are feeling.”

Mark Leigh, director, Think BDW: “Working in property marketing has been particularly interesting during the pandemic as people’s relationships with their home environment have changed significantly due to national lockdowns and the shift to working from home. Restrictions around physical house viewings and traditional forms of marketing such as printed brochures have meant we’ve had to come up with creative and innovative digital solutions that still provide an emotional connection between the consumer and the product. It has been exciting to see how possible it is to create this connection without needing to step inside the new home”.

Harman Randhawa, associate director, Krow Central

“Nobody has got a clue. This really is a completely new, crazy and ever-changing environment and literally no one has any precedence on what’s the best course of action to take. People are emotional and the situation is changing on a weekly basis dependent on people’s moods and wants. Marketeers should always be at the forefront, understanding what’s driving people and motivating them. And so, at a time when people are looking for guidance, marketeers have an opportunity to lead businesses in this New World.

”From trusting our instincts better to rethinking old problems from a new perspective and remembering that being human is often as important as being right, even the most experienced in our industry have found some positive lessons to take from this challenging, never normal year.

Cat Davis, group marketing director at Mission Group and Krow Group.

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