At 2017’s first Working Dinners event, a broad discussion on how best to adapt to marketing’s ever-changing environment sparked numerous biological analogies. The importance of "transplanting new types of talent without suffering organ rejection" was emphasised. In other words, when evolving a company’s talent base to fulfil new roles and provide innovative solutions to clients, organisations face the risk of losing these vital new members of staff if the core culture prevents a sufficiently productive and responsive working environment. Equally, agency leaders need to fight against the complacency of ‘muscle memory’ by ensuring that people with more traditional skillsets are trained and motivated to become future-proof.
The chief operating officer role in 2017 was described as “an absolute adventure”, having to manage the shift from retainers to project-based briefs, building a more diverse workforce and engineering a better integration of mind-set. As one diner offered: "We have to come up with smarter ways of deploying the best, most appropriate staff in the best, most productive ways”. There was also concurrence among the guests: "The challenge is not just how to attract the right people in an increasingly complex industry. The harder part is retaining – not losing talent to the lure of tech giants and ambitious start-ups. We need diversity and difference, not traditionalists. Disruptive people are urgently required in this industry: to ask heretic questions and to constructively challenge briefs.”
For others, the current state of flux in the industry presents an opportunity to reshape the nature of business creativity: "The challenge for us all is to figure out exactly what clients want from an agency. There’s a need to be so fluid and permeable, it’s hard to pin a definition down. Does the modern agency need to be predominantly left brain or right brain, or a balance between the two? What’s the right model? How do we avoid wasting time and energy? How do we create occasional elegance at scale while protecting the preciousness and value of a vulnerable thing like creativity?"
Another voice described velocity as a dominant force. "The speed of change in this business is phenomenal. There’s a constant need to reinvent and to plan in the midst of uncertainty. The challenge is to figure out which new capabilities need to be developed and deployed to solve client challenges, and which ones will fade into obsolescence. Our goal is to get the balance right, between a culture of organic creativity and curiosity, and the hardcore capability that client business demands."
It has become fashionable in our industry to say things like ‘the only certainty is uncertainty’, but it’s crucial that we don’t give in to knee-jerk reactions that have us obsessively tearing things up and starting from scratch. Yes, we need more diverse capability, but let’s not forget the immense talent that already exists and perhaps just requires a little reorganisation. To bookend with another biologically themed analogy, in our opinion, a modern agency should be like an ecosystem that only sustains itself through meticulous balance. The question is – how do you strike yours? We can help with that, so don’t hesitate to reach out.
(Picture credit: Mario Wagner)