News & Views

Opinion / Industry Resolutions


Forget New Year’s Eve – the office Christmas party is where the real resolutions get made… but what should our industry’s be?

I don’t know about you, but I am dreading the slew of ‘New Year’s Resolutions for our Industry’ articles that will welcome us back to work in January. You know the sort – click-baity lists of platitudes telling brands and their agencies how to spend the year ahead ‘behaving in beta’, or ‘agreeing not to make good advertising, just good content’, or – well, you get the picture.

Clichés aside, these are frustrating because – like our own personal New Year’s resolutions – they are usually made to help one feel sanctimonious about one’s intentions rather than forcing us to actually do anything about them. Hence why no person in the history of the universe has ever upheld a new year’s resolution past January 7th.

What interests me more is a precise moment over the holiday period when we make far more candid, realistic (and I’d argue, actionable) declarations about where we need to get better. I am talking of course, about the mildly-inebriated, office Christmas Party conversation.

We’ve all been there – huddled outside with a cigarette or around a sticky table with an unwanted shot of Jägermeister – making tokenistic apologies for ‘talking shop’ before launching into a gloriously candid assessment of all the frustrating shit we need to put right. It is in those moments – as colleagues bounce company credit cards off the bar like pogs… as the lights are dimmed and Last Christmas comes on the sound system just as the intern turns a special shade of green – it is in these moments that we achieve a rare clarity of thought. As Walt Whitman said:

‘Amid the measureless grossness and the slag
Enclosed and safe within its central heart
Nestles the seed Perfection’

So what are these perfect confessions that our industry as a whole should be making at its Christmas Party and is there anything we can do about them? I’ve chosen a couple that I think could be a great place to start making meaningful changes in 2017.

1. We need to take better care of ourselves

2016 has been a bit of a shitter. But there’s nothing worse than scraping towards the finish line of a tough year whilst dreading the start of the next. And I am not just talking about living in a post-Bowie/Brexit/Trump inauguration world, but also working in an industry that is probably more fractured and uncertain than it’s ever been. So, bearing in mind that we’re all going to need to be on top form in 2017, I suggest we all do as much as possible to follow Mr Springer’s advice and take care of ourselves, and each other.

Happiness and health can still feel like slightly taboo issues in our industry – probably because advertising has always been painted as a hedonistic, ‘work hard, play hard’ (and get paid well) industry in which anyone failing to take the heat needs to get out of the kitchen, etc. It’s crazy though, because this is an industry whose performance lives or dies on its people’s ability to think well – be it strategically, creatively or managerially – and the fact is that we can’t do that if we’re not 100%.

However, it often feels like we’re better at paying lip service to contributing issues such as the work/life balance, rather than doing anything about them. This topic came up at a dinner I attended with a group of leaders from some of London’s most famous agencies a few months ago and some of the talk was staggering. One person explained that – thanks to how young members of staff are looked after with free food, drink etc – the office is often a nicer place for them to spend time than their homes… so what’s wrong with them working long hours? This, in case you weren’t aware, is the same logic used by casinos.

More encouraging are the experiments that agencies such as Wieden+Kennedy London are running – such as discouraging meetings before 10am and after 4pm; ensuring people take days off in lieu when they work weekends and banning emails after 7pm. Scoffed at by some in the industry when announced, it turns out that W+K have quietly been getting on with it and when we spoke to deputy managing director, Helen Andrews and joint ECD Iain Tait recently, they explained it’s working. When surveyed, 91% of the staff said they now had a better work/life balance while 86% also said they felt a perception change in how the agency worked. And let’s not forget that they won perhaps the biggest UK creative pitch of the year, Sainsbury’s, with these new rules in place. Why? Because well-rested, well-balanced people are more creative and productive. Who’d have bloody thought?

Admirable agency practices aside, however, the industry will always be driven by competition and success. There will always be pitches, there will always be late nights and there will always be fuck-ups. Probably more as the industry continues to get squeezed in the future. So perhaps a practical step that we can all take, is acknowledging that we find it tough… that we’re not bullet-proof and that sometimes we might need help.

Emma Lightfoot, creative director and head of copy at R/GA London wrote a piece for on facilitating a more open conversation about mental health in the workplace. The crux of her argument was that we need to get better at owning our own vulnerabilities because in doing this, we realise that no one’s perfect… and the sooner we do that, the sooner we stop agonising about all the areas in which we feel inadequate. It was a wonderful point and one with which I agree whole-heartedly. No one’s perfect and neither will 2017 be, so let’s make sure we keep talking and stop stressing.

2. We need to stop tweeting about diversity and start rolling our sleeves up

There’s no doubt that the world has been distracted by a bigger threat to equal rights than the marketing industry – yes it’s the tangerine pussy-grabber with the small hands and the big new job. But this still doesn’t feel like an adequate excuse for the painfully slow progress we’re making on some of our industry’s most pressing people-related issues.

For our seminar at the Cannes Lions festival this year Contagious and Razorfish used data science to analyse the past fifteen years of award-winning creativity (read the report here). One of the most startling things we discovered is that – despite our industry’s supposed focussed on gender equality – the number of senior creative positions in agencies held by women has actually decreased. And that’s just gender; Dereck Walker’s recent op-ed about the racism that he experienced in the industry is an absolute jaw-dropper, but it’s not the first and it certainly won’t be the last.

But what can we do? Perhaps it’s about putting as much energy put into solving these issues next year as we’ve all put into raising awareness of them over the last few. Social media can be a great tool for effecting change but it can also promote slacktivism… or the idea that by retweeting something we’re helping to solve an issue… because often, we’re not – we’re just spitting petrol onto the flames that licked around the feet of Kevin Roberts et al.

By all means let’s keep calling out these guilty leaders but let’s also start to think practically about how we can help them instigate change. Organisations like Creative Equals – perhaps best described as a gender diversity consultancy – are doing fantastic things and their list of 32 Things You Can Do Today shows how easy it can be to start. It’s also worth checking out the report from this year’s Great British Diversity Experiment – designed specifically to provide practical insight into why diversity works and ​how to leverage it. It also contains a list of ‘the five things you should do NOW’, so, again, there’s no excuse not to get cracking.

These are just a couple of examples of resources that can help us turn awareness into action, but I am sure you’ve seen others – feel free to email/tweet them to Contagious and we’ll continue to share the love. Just don’t wait until the new year…

Now back to those shots. On ONE… TWO….