Ten years on from the global financial collapse, history is repeating itself.
To clarify, I don’t mean bankers’ bad behaviour or risky mortgages. I’m not qualified to comment. But what I am seeing in 2017 – just as 2007/8 – is a harmful creative slowdown.
Whenever there’s a big societal shock – like the credit crunch then or Brexit now – some brands freeze and wait for calm to return. But for me, it’s time to accept two things, that shocks are inevitable. And creative is for life.
In 2009, a year or so after Lehman Brothers fell, the globe’s biggest audit firms released their new directives on how firms can stay healthy. The message was breathe in; keep a lean staff; scale cautiously.
Here in the UK that solution mirrored the national tone. Austerity. Brands were advised to make cuts. And just as the creative sector is first to feel the government axe, creative output is first to be dialled down or snipped entirely in brand-land.
In 2017, like the late noughties, that’s a mistake.
Shocks in history
For 15 years, up until 2012, I was a decision-maker at a host of integrated and creative agencies. Much of my day-to-day was spent calibrating and justifying creative spend for agencies and clients through changing times.
I navigated as the information superhighway opened; as the iPod kickstarted a dynasty; as social media exploded; as TV degenerated; as the talent pool widened; as news gathering went 24/7 global and as digital redefined our day.
If tech’s evolution wasn’t disruptive enough, world events piled on more uncertainty. New currencies, new terror, new wars, natural disasters – those of us accountable for the success of creative campaigns through that time had to hold our nerve.
When the 2007/8 shock hit, it hit hard. After years of coping with cultural uncertainty, we now faced collective financial uncertainty: we were questioning the bedrock of the entire system. As the aftershocks rumbled, just a few defiant brands continued to pump out strong creative as usual. Others tried to compromise and do more with less. But the majority slowed right down.
At that exact time, I was working on projects with some of the big brands sponsoring London 2012. These brands knew we were in rough seas but had the foresight to keep faith in creative endeavours. That stance just wasn’t the norm.
Flux an opportunity
For mainstream brands, scaling back in unsure times, on the surface, seems prudent. Why push products and personality when the natural order is in flux?
Indeed, we watched consumers’ priorities change; we saw spending habits shift. Luxuries, upgrades and nice-to-haves? All off the table.
Yet during that time, the opportunities were many. In 2007, the UK averaged three screens per person – so affiliate marketing evolved from a dirty marketing backwater to a £6bn case study in cross-device marketing. Brands pumped out voucher codes and propped up the balance sheet that way.
While high-end restaurants felt the pinch, Nando’s and Domino’s Pizza crept into centre stage on the discount ticket where they’ve remained to this day. Film, book and music sales spiked as people sought to escape. Unsurprisingly chocolate did very well. Savvy creative departments made the best of recession – some transcended it altogether.
Your audience, your customers, your stakeholders, the masses need to remember your brand exists in the bad times as well as the good. Brands and businesses with the nerve to keep themselves in the customer’s eyeline do see payoff when the worm turns.
Taking the plunge
I started The McHardy Collective in 2012, when that worm began to turn, spiritually as well as economically. The Olympic and Paralympic Games were in town, Obama was back in, and the sun was back out. The fog of depression was lifting.
With a lighter, bolder, braver mood, brands were again ready to campaign with confidence.
In 2012, just as today, The McHardy Collective connected a portfolio of first-rate, indie agencies with brands who needed agile, nuanced solutions. I’ve been in the game long enough to help firms pinpoint their exact and specific needs – and matchmake them with creative teams who’ll deliver absolutely.
Our agencies cover an exhaustive spread of disciplines. When a brand’s ready to celebrate alongside their audiences, we’ve got events teams, production and broadcast specialists, animators, filmmakers, composers, designers and marketers of all stripes.
Some feet back from the coalface, our strategists, focus group and research specialists – and our employee engagement teams, development gurus and training executives – can all ensure that brands proceed on firm foundations.
Our agencies are hand-picked, road tested, and know the meaning of value – it’s the language they speak too.
The one thing I’ve learned from my days in agency world – and as an entrepreneur who introduces creatives with answers for brands that ask questions – is that you can’t put creativity in the corner. It’s short sighted, even when the nation’s in a state of transition.
Safe bets in a shock culture
In 2017, just as in 2007 before it, 2001 before it, and 1992 before it, we have to work smarter and harder; more agile and more creatively. When the moment comes to launch creative campaigns – or to prepare for a new day – getting the chequebook out needn’t be a gamble. It may even be the perfect chance to gain a competitive edge.
Whilst agency business development is my calling card, I now get called a fixer, a connector, a talent scout. Even a pimp.
That’s right. A pimp. The connotations aren’t wonderful but I totally get it and knowing the people who affectionately call me it, I treat it as a massive compliment!
I bring my curated list of top talent so CMOs, brand leaders, comms directors and HR decision-makers can tap into specialists that provide overarching business value.
The output is first rate, the risks minimal, the process smoothly managed. Through good times and bad, the results last longer than any cultural blip.
Stay creative, tap into expertise and if you like – get in touch.