Opinion: Improvising during COVID revealed the way advertising needs to work
A year in crisis mode has created the single greatest chance to transform advertising in our lifetimes. When agencies and clients went on scramble, a new openness, shared connection and speed took hold. Everyone took off their uniforms and joined the same team. As a result, in nine months we’ve bridged a divide that was widening for more than a decade. An all-hands-on-deck mentality overrode the procedures and limits that had been suffocating relationships.
Clients opened to ideas from anywhere and didn’t restrict their agencies to the scope of work that they had signed off on. Agencies responded by accelerating their responsiveness. Whether the client’s business was diving, surviving or thriving, they put the smartest people they could find in the mix and they let everyone contribute. They solved the real problem because there wasn’t time for a brief. And they produced more dynamic, effective work as collaboration got more comfortable.
That’s the way advertising is supposed to happen.
If we treat this as a makeshift approach to pandemic urgency, we’re missing the point and the opportunity. We need to make the mindset and structure of collaboration the new norm in agency-client relationships. Mutual trust that we’re going to get the job done together, whatever form that ends up taking.
To keep the magic, we need to avoid slipping back into predictable modes as a sense of normalcy returns over the coming year. We need to embrace what’s working and anoint 2020’s adaptations as new standards:
Abandon the classic project brief
This year, there weren’t four-page briefs, there were four-word problems. With survival at stake, nobody had months to do a plan, so everyone figured it out together in days (sometimes hours). Many are realizing they never needed the brief anyway. The predictability stifled idea flow, and the real magic is in the problem itself.
Put your stars on the front line
All of them. Hierarchy kills innovation, and one of the sneaky ways is keeping the best people one floor up in approval mode. Last year, agencies eliminated the lag between ideas and expressions by putting the best people in the mix. When clients did the same, top talent started really working together, and in most cases, clients got closer to their agencies.
Create an egalitarian space
One reason remote works is video conferencing removes the implied subservience of going to a client’s office. It levels the playing field when everyone’s at home in their sweats and opens idea flow to come from anywhere.
Don’t wait for the lawyers
Scopes of work were recreated moment by moment this year, as agency-client teams fought brand battles on multiple dimensions. The customary pushback, “We’ve got to get this scope of work signed first before we get to work,” didn’t apply because things were moving too fast. Nor did waiting for an ECD’s permission to show a rough cut. With the approvers in the mix, real-time problem solving took over, and teams created beyond what the scope would have specified.
Drop the ceremony around showing work
When everything is fluid and you’re creating content continuously together, the wire drive and shared docs replace the conference room screen. And you realize that everything about the big presentation was wrong to begin with. Too much pressure around the big reveal of a few fixed, precious assets in a setting seeking approval. Real, spontaneous interaction to create something better beats that every time.
Collectively, we need to avoid thinking, “When things get back to normal, we can do everything the right way again.” The adaptive way is the right way. It creates the urgent, shared commitment required to create work that really boosts brands in a dynamic world.
This moment has shown us how advertising can be extraordinary again. Clients now have the urgency, agility and innovation they want from their agencies. And agencies now have the chance to apply creative thinking to business problems without being limited to a communications role.
We need to keep this magic going. Advertising’s relevance depends on it.