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The year ahead for creativity by Mounir Harfouche, CEO, MENA, at MullenLowe

The creative environment has changed forever. What used to take two weeks, now needs to be done in two days. The process has shifted from “we will work on it” to “when will it be done?”. Clients are increasingly more demanding and they live in the now. They invest more budget in data and technology, growing their capabilities internally and building towards real tangible moment marketing; as a result, the pressure on creativity to deliver is more than ever. Clients are now fully versed about their customers and their sales, so they are constantly under pressure to improve their content with greater personalisation across a multitude of channels. In turn, this increases the pressure on agency creative teams to be even more relevant, act quicker and still be brilliant in idea and execution. Agency competition is changing with a set of new multi-dimensional thinkers who actively  engage in channels, touch points, innovation, technology and consumer-driven experiences. The pressure is on to be able to continue to create consistent ideas and executions that fit the purpose without losing the power of engagement, the craft or the necessary insight that truly make a difference in our new world. Under these conditions, where does that leave creative discipline?

A new creative model
Think of the creative team, overwhelmed with a plethora of tools, strategies, briefs, channels and fast turnarounds, while still being expected to deliver outstanding concepts crafted with meticulous detail at all times. That is where the game is starting to change, not only in the skills and attitude of both clients and agencies but also in the creative model within which we all operate. We now see creative departments reorganising structures and building agile models that allow flexibility, specialisation and support across all areas of a brand’s business. Models that increasingly act like a start-up with a  defined culture of quick thinkers and fast doers – winning squads of talented and experienced individuals. Creative people can’t afford to sit back and reflect. Creative leadership is changing, ideas are being replaced by experiences. Every job function is being evaluated and new supporting systems, from planning to servicing, are being introduced. Creativity has become a blurred line between craft and speed. Agency and creatives alike have to readdress the balance. Yes, creative individuals need to have more ownership over the brands they work on, and be more aware of the commercial objectives of the business and the data it provides. They need to be ready to create superior concepts and deliver ideas that stand out and last in the memory within the minds of consumers.

A new process
The leadership is shifting from business-centric to creative-centric – where the power to change and commoditise happens. Every other function in the agency becomes part of their support system, from planning to servicing. We will see a huge shift in thinking. Gone is the luxury of time and budgets to create a campaign. Creativity will become more operational and detailed. The creative heads will be leading the charge with the client, whether it’s service-led design, brand experience or bespoke communication. We agree that more in-depth and current data leads to more insights, which leads to better storytelling narratives living in a personalised multi-channel platform, allowing better engagement and experiences.

Social media has democratised creativity but it has also ensured that it became a commodity. Now anyone can create but also everyone can judge. And here lies the problem: no matter how easy it has become to have access to creative minds or ideas, nothing will ever replace the value of creativity coming from an agency and the experience and people it provides. Ideas, after all, need to be part of an industry-institutionalised approach and a methodology of collective thinking. Agencies are for a client brief like blockchain is for a city. Campaigns will always have to be engaging and real. Every word, every design and every concept will have to appeal to the millions of people out there, waiting to like or dislike and to comment with a positive or a negative sentiment. It’s always been, and always will be, a huge responsibility and the margins of failure are becoming thinner and thinner.

Creativity will be more of a complete consumer journey – that will be the new brief in the coming weeks, months and years. Agencies will be tasked to create multi-messaging matrixes and at the same time remove many layers of complex processes to avoid falling into the trap of heavy procedures that will create distance between the creative team and the client. With the advent of Twitter and snapchat, and emerging millennial and centennial audiences, clients have become economical with the amount of words they use – briefing by WhatsApp is becoming the norm, and that creates its own problems. But it’s not all bad news. Agencies now have the opportunity to move from archaic models but still retain the craft and integrity of a great creative idea. Our approach is now about the concept and the specific journey we design around the consumer in a way that makes sense. Our creative teams now have the luxury to test their ideas, or as many ideas as they want, allowing them to measure the effect on consumer processing.

How to seed an idea, how to nurture it and evolve it is the way forward. Gone are the scene-by-scene objectives and pre-planned-to-the-dot shoots. Videos nowadays are finalisedwhile filming, they evolve as they are being produced. Creativity will be more  experimental. Creativity is a science that now has technology on its side. It has become multi-dimensional. The impact of the right engaging content that has the power to connect with people could now be much stronger if we use technology as a tool rather than a solution. The onus is on creative teams to educate themselves every day. They need to understand that there is a learning curve that is a must to get to know how and why technology works either for or against them, and the impact that Google, for example, can have on any content.

Coming to life
Finally, there are some challenges still to be overcome. All this transformation is fairly new to our region. How informed and  experienced are our marketers? How many people with the right experience and talent are available at the agency? Many realistic questions are popping up every day. This is most definitely an iterative process for both client and agency. There may be chaos and disorder until we reach a destination of maturity and readiness, but working together as a collaboration we can make the change happen.

To summarise
Creative people and creativity will always be the centre of any integrated agency model, bringing media, data, planning and servicing to create relevance and value for brands. Yes, it will be more operational, specific and specialised. Yes, the creative product will be expected to be produced faster, within the constraints of smaller budgets. Yes, it will have to be strategic, relevant and efficient every time. Creative technology will make the difference in execution, but traditional creative ideation will always be the emotional currency that drives a great idea. Clients need to be on par with the evolution of agencies, and vice versa. Integration and stronger communication and education between clients and agencies is a must. Agencies should be positive that the creative product in 2018 will, as a result, be richer, more engaging, less clichéd and somehow more tailor-made for both brands and consumer audiences.

In 2018, the most prestigious award won’t be given by a jury once a year on a stage, but by people, somewhere on a post every day. This year expect creativity to rule, divas to die and ideas to live.