Thought Leaders in association withPartners in Crime

Why Adland Cannot Go Back to Business as Usual

Advertising Agency
London, UK
With the world slowly returning back to some kind of normality after Covid, Chris Freeland at RAPP UK discusses the ad industries need to retain changes made in the past 18 months

As we emerge back into the world, it’s surprising how quickly many of the resolutions and improving habits we adopted during lockdown may have been dropped. The spike in charity donations, the community outreach, the new-found appreciation for nature, the bread-making, have, in many cases, fallen by wayside as the focus shifts to social gatherings and much anticipated travel plans.

It’s human nature to fall back into old habits when the opportunity presents itself and we return to a more familiar world. But, when it comes to the ad industry, let’s hope the return to the workplace does not also bring with it a resumption of pre pandemic business as usual. 

We’ve had so many discussions in adland over the past year-and-a-half around the systemic problems we face, from tackling the lack of diversity, equity and inclusivity to entirely rethinking the agency model. 

The upside of lockdown was that it offered, no in fact forced a new perspective. Some of us found it easier to think creatively and look at things differently. Flexible working was embraced and the focus was on encouraging people to open up about their work life balance and wellbeing.

But in spite of the new promises and commitments so many agencies, including ourselves at Rapp, have been making, is this industry really capable of systemic change? Can we really move away from what came before?

The burnout and anxiety people experienced when the pandemic hit made it an exceptionally challenging time for workers at all levels. However, for business leaders, now is when the hard work really begins. 

We are living and working through a time unlike any other and the arrival of the hybrid workplace sees us embarking on a massive social experiment. There are no precursors and no rulebook. We have to accept the uncertainty that comes with this and be open and willing to adapt to new demands, challenges and needs as and when they arise.

Change is a constant and that has never been more true than now. If as a leader you aren’t prepared to pivot in step with the moment, then you risk being left behind. For agencies to succeed and for flexibility to be fully embraced, the traditional approach to leadership needs to go. The old hierarchical system must be replaced with a new open and progressive approach.

I believe the first and most important step is to listen. Listen to employees, teams, partners and to those inside and outside the industry calling for change. Act on the feedback you get. Ensure employees know and feel that they are valued, that they are being listened to and that their wellbeing and development is supported. 

At Rapp, our approach to the return to the workplace is informed and guided by everyone who works here, our partners and organizations and groups that are actively working towards systemic change when it comes to diversity, equality and inclusion, such as our Diversity and Inclusion Steering Committee and Anti-racism Delegation programme. Our new commitments and policies – including Zero Tolerance and Talent Strategy Evolution are not one-offs; they form the blueprint for the future direction of our company.

If leaders step up collectively, we will overhaul our ways of working and start to see the diversity, equality and inclusivity that this industry so desperately needs. The onus is on us. 

If the pandemic has taught us anything it is that we are an extremely resilient and adaptable bunch when we need to be. If we channel the ingenuity and dedication we’ve seen over the past year-and-a-half into transforming how we operate, then those of us who have been waiting to see wholesale change in adland, can look to the future with a lot more confidence and hope.

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