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It’s Cold. It’s Dark. And People Are Exhausted.


INFLUENCER: It's been a year of challenge and change for the advertising industry - but things don't have to be so bleak, writes LOLA MullenLowe's Tom Elliston

It’s Cold. It’s Dark. And People Are Exhausted.

Well of course we are - it’s the end of the year. And not just any old year. A year where we’ve felt the continuous and ever more challenging struggle of keeping our business profitable whilst delivering creativity that’s at the top of its game. 

2018 has seen clients punching an extra hole in their belts to tighten them even more, including enforcing new structures of how agencies work and get paid. It’s been tough. And no matter how you package it up, no one likes to deal with having consistent and significant cuts in revenue. Yes, it’s dim. But it doesn’t have to be so bleak.

It feels like yesterday when the industry was very comfortable with the fat fees. Money was spent without properly thinking. We didn’t properly scrutinise the talent we employed. And yes, perhaps people got complacent. But above all, we lacked commercial thinking that was distilled throughout everyone in the company.

At LOLA we have just had the most successful year in our history, with the Cannes report ranking us 12th in the world and my beloved partner Tomas Ostiglia coming out as the 3rd best creative (in the world). It’s been one hell of a year. And we’ve done it with just 38 people working from our office in Madrid. 

These are 38 extraordinary people. 38 people who worked tirelessly day and night to get great work out. But above all, 38 people who understand the commercial impact of what they are doing. Unlike before, they all aware of the ever more fragile nature of our industry and that at the end of the day we are a business here to make money. So, nothing fills me more with joy when I see creatives, producers or anyone in the agency working energetically and tirelessly not just to ensure that the creative output is at its best, but also because they understand the financial impact that it has. I remember back in the day when briefs were flying around and the teams were able to decide if they wanted to work on them, or not. I just can’t see that now – well at least not in my agency. Everyone is battling together to meet the numbers. Everyone is well aware of the tight financial goals. Everyone is more than aware of the volatility of our business. And now it is regular for creatives to come up to me with ideas for how we can get additional projects or revenue with clients. Or how a brief that previously wouldn’t have been given the time of day has been converted into outside the box thinking that will over deliver to solving a business problem. Surely that’s a good thing. 

Now you might be thinking that having more traditional, less business orientated agency people closer to the internal business challenge will take out the purity of the creative thinking and will more than likely lead to below par work? Well in fact it’s quite the opposite. Remember, clients in the industry have less money and more options. So if they are going to fight for more budget for additional work that was not contemplated, then the work needs to be good. In fact, it needs to be outstanding. It needs to demonstrate how it will deliver above and beyond the ROI.

The other benefit I have clearly seen coming through in this new world is that people are becoming more multi-disciplined. Remember that day when you took that decision to get into this business? Well I would like to think that it was because you were inspired by creativity and wanted to make impactful creative work. I have previously seen many agencies overloaded with people who have lost sight of this and perhaps never even had it in the first place. Account management were more focused on logistics, making sure that things were coordinated in diaries and that the technology worked for meetings. Planners overcomplicated things without real clarity and creatives were demotivated and saw the easier option of getting work out that ticked the boxes but didn’t go the extra 100 miles that was needed. With 38 people, producing world class work and keeping the business strong, this is simply not possible. Gone are the days of passing things around departments and making it someone else’s problem. Everyone is thinking beyond their department function and towards the bigger goal in sight. Problems are everyone’s. People feel inspired and uncomfortably motivated in the right way to think creatively, really roll their sleeves up and get stuck in. In essence, people have become more entrepreneurial. 

This encourages everyone to think creatively. Even in finance – and believe me, creative thinking in this area where the numbers are tighter than ever is more than important. People are fighting for the same cause and everyone understands the value of sniffing out an extra 100k of revenue that would have previously been ignored because it wasn’t worthwhile. 

It’s been painful in the process. And whilst the good days of healthy remuneration are becoming a distant memory, agencies have to be at the top of their game. Clients are more than switched on to the mediocre work that came out of agencies at a huge cost, which is one of the reasons as to why more and more in-house facilities are now in place. Basically, this means going forward there will be more pressure for agency work to be at it’s very best. There will always be average work out there and I’m sure that you can still make a very good living out of being average. But the world doesn’t need any more of these agencies. There are already plenty. But there will always be room for businesses with great and challenging ideas. 

It has had a humongous change for our business. But better to accept it, and find the positive change it can have on your business rather than continue to trip around the edges. We have got better at new business. We have become more commercial. Our values have changed. And our work has got better. We’ll all come back in January aware of the 2019 challenges ahead and raring to go to have an even better year.

Merry Christmas.

Tom Elliston is Global Business Director at LOLA MullenLowe

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LOLA MullenLowe, Fri, 14 Dec 2018 16:19:05 GMT