The days of reckoning have begun. Operating in the marketing services industry these days is increasingly seeming like a tough aﬀair.
The mood all around is somber. The air is thick.
Uncertainty is turning every good plan on its head. And the geopolitical conditions and their economic impact are not helping either.
Meeting people from the industry feels like everyone is starring in their own version of Tom Hanks’ The Terminal. Every new day brings the hope of crossing over. The oasis seems just a stone’s throw away. We put on our best self. We get ready to go through the gates. Yet the right of passage seems to be lacking and seems to change every time.
We’re in a continuous loop of denied entry. We go back. Succumb. Repeat.
And I hear people reminiscing over glory days that have passed. Of times of growth that seemed like they would never end. For me, this world view is puzzling. Business cycles are a fact of life.
The peaks and troughs are two faces of the same coin. And it is in this gestation that innovation ﬂourishes and companies get a renewed licence for life.
Yes, our ways of working have been disrupted to the core. But so have many industries the world over. Yes, our industry is very demanding. But so is any industry that operates in the services sector.
And yes, we’re facing ﬁnancial pressures to our business model. But so are many industries that have
found themselves in extended years of little-to-no innovation.
Some years ago, we spoke about the new normal. We were really good at predicting it, but never really did anything ground-breaking to transform, to adapt to it.
Today, we remain in a unique position. We are trusted by the best companies in the world to help them win in this complex and ever-changing world. To remain credible partners, now and in the future, there is a mindset shift required of us. I can think of at least four areas of transformation that require urgent attention.
1. Obsess about service excellence.
This means, consistently exceeding expectations and keeping to our promises. It means delivering in a
manner that truly resembles us and makes us proud of ourselves. It means that we give our best eﬀort
every single time.
It also means that we operate consistently across markets, and that we make tangible steps to automate our operations to become smarter and more data-driven.
2. Be accountable.
As leaders, we have to accept accountability for the actions we have taken in the past. We also have to be accountable for the actions we have not taken (like making the right eﬀorts to upskill our talent and provide them with sensible career guidance and orientation).
However, this also means that we hold our teams accountable.
Operating in a region challenged with talent does not mean that we should celebrate and normalise mediocrity.
High performance is not optional; rather, it should be the benchmark.
3. Veer away from nonsense.
We are in the business of helping brands grow and helping them play a meaningful role in consumers’ lives and to do it in the most proﬁtable manner.
What we are not doing, or should not be doing, is taking a philosophical or dogmatic position with or against a medium or a platform.
No, TV is not dead. Just ask brand marketers about the impact of TV on their brand equity. Take a chapter from the playbook of successful direct-to-consumer brands.
No, we do not vilify the tech ecosystem in its entirety and with a broad brush stroke because of a few
bad actors. And no, we do not do digital because it makes us look ‘smarter’.
Our single-minded focus is the success of our clients’ brands and their connections with their consumers. We will seek to help them with every means available and in the
most eﬃcient manner.
4. Embrace coopetition and collaboration.
The speed and the scale of innovation required to succeed in this new world demands that we seek collaborations outside the tight walls of our organisations.
Just look at the intersecting web of collaborations in the tech industry around areas like AI, autonomous driving or blockchain. If each company is to pursue this on its own, it will take humanity many, many more years to bring tangible results and it will come at a substantially higher cost to resources and ﬁnances.
We should also, once and for all, learn to cooperate with our competitors.
Bemoaning the erosion of fees and then cutting deep into them in every pitch does not make for smart business sense. There’s nothing wrong with organising to represent the collective interests. Advertisers are represented by the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA), and publishers are represented by various interest groups across the globe.
Equally, agencies should organise, and should have clear code of practice and to be the ﬁrst to adhere
to it before asking others to follow it.
There are many successful agency interest groups around the globe (in the UK, the US, Canada and Australia to name a few) and some of these have created some of the most progressive best practices in our industry.
In business, like in life, we evolve when we set our sights to the future.
Living in a state of nostalgia for days that have passed will not take away the challenges of the present.
Come discover the new way with us.