Feature (external)

Why agencies need greater ‘bouncebackability’

 

It’s sometimes said that people are only interested in reading about bad news (and there’s plenty of that around at the moment), but one of the most persistent stories of the past few weeks has been the extraordinary resilience of many small and medium-sized businesses in the UK.

Faced with an almost unique set of challenges, from the political uncertainty surrounding the appointment of a new prime minister and cabinet – with new ideas and fresh priorities – to the escalating fuel and energy crisis, it’s a miracle that so many smaller businesses are still around.

Some relief was announced last week in the form of a six-month energy price cap for business, yet it remains true that we are heading into a particularly tough economic period.

With fuel bills up and interest rates on the rise yet again (thanks to the Bank of England’s rate rise last week), inflation deepening and household budgets squeezed across the board, companies will be forced to become more and more creative in searching for ways to survive.

As an industry, we have our own set of problems to add to the mix: a talent shortage, the rise of in-housing, pressure on the value of our own creative product and talk of cuts to marketing budgets.

John Lewis has already allocated part of its marketing budget to help feed staff through the cost-of-living crisis.

The Wall Street Journal has warned that, although the big networks have swerved some of the worst effects of the economic downturn so far, their predicted revenue growth of 6-7% this year is unlikely to hold up.

Cue the usual mixture of denial and doom. Either it’s all marvellous (fingers in ears), or we’re existentially threatened (fingers in the air).

The truth is, neither is right. Messy, tough, chaotic reality lies somewhere between the two extremes, and it’s better to confront this than to allow yourself to be knocked sideways by heady optimism or helpless pessimism.

Being real is being resilient. As 1980s ski-jumping legend Michael “Eddie the Eagle” Edwards once said: “Resilience can go an awful long way.”

Because resilience is a crucial trait for any business to cultivate. We shortcut to talking about inspiring creative work and great strategy, but none of it matters without the ability to see it through.

Resilient companies look forward and beyond. A long way beyond. They sidestep the adrenaline-fuelled cycles of our business – the euphoric new account wins and crushing and unexpected losses – to see the full journey.

They maintain a clear sense of direction, stay true to their values, and keep believing, even when everything around them shifts.

Just as we advise a constant course for our brands in tricky times, so we must follow the same advice.

But resilience is also born of flexibility, of listening and adapting. Look at the amount of change that has happened in the workplace over the past three years and you will witness agencies reforming in surprising new ways.

The great agencies of the past two or three decades have thrived, not because they won a piece of new business or created a decent campaign, but because they were ready to rethink ideas, processes and capabilities.

When something didn’t work, they were the quickest to adapt and get stronger. These were the businesses with real “bouncebackability” (to coin a footballing phrase first used by Mr Iain Dowie of Crystal Palace) hardwired into their culture.

The notion that you get stronger by simply running at the chaos is an interesting one. I was once told that the best account people see the knottiest, trickiest problems and sprint straight into the mess.

This metaphor has stuck with me over time, and I feel like it’s a critical lens through which to view the success of an agency. Are we, as agency leaders, calming facing or subtly avoiding the most difficult questions? And are we hiring people who enjoy the former?

Finally, perspective matters. As inputs into processes become more challenging, we can and must maintain our own sense of perspective and fun. The business pressures become greater by the day, and many of them we cannot control directly.

One thing we can control is how we respond to them. Fewer moments of panic; more wry smiles.

So, let’s fixate a bit less on the short-term highs, and the easy-to-bemoan lows of our industry. And let’s celebrate instead the longer view – the comebacks, the fightbacks and the bouncebacks.

As we have learned over 17 years at BMB, these are what make us human, and they are what make us infinitely stronger, interesting and more durable as an industry.

Jason Cobbold, CEO at BMB

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