Time to evolve, whether we like it or not

Business partner Chris Bleackley throws Newtons 1st law at me every now and then. It reads, “an object either remains at rest or continues to move at a constant velocity, unless acted upon by an external force.”

In the right context we can work that logic into many a situation. In light of recent events, it’s working its socks off. Company change during calm seas is glacial really.

Plenty of exceptions, but on the whole, medium to large companies are more cruise ship than a speed boat. It’s taken a global pandemic crisis (an external force) to change the way we do things. We work from home now. Our IT system upgrade came from COVID19, not from the CTO.

There’s a reason companies – including agencies, don’t like change. Change is nigh on impossible to predict. Companies, and in particular the beanies, love a known state.

Forecasting, predicting and achieving said objectives. Hence our desire for economic stability. Smooth waters make for an achievable well-crafted budget.

I watched the last financial crisis up close and personal from a desk in Hong Kong. I was 15 metres away from the Omnicom regional CFO. It was his time to shine, in that his calls to all the offices in Asia became the most important calls for them to take.

He and his charismatic band of accountants were the only ones travelling. He was a good bloke, and I know he hated it, but he shut down plenty of aspiring creative shops, or at least let a ton of people go.

It dawned on me then, then this can be a brutal business, sometimes run by people who don’t necessarily understand where the intangibles in agencies lie. As in that last recession, we’ll see another change this time round.

Independent agencies grew from the ashes of 2009, along with “project work” and “content”. Similarly we’ll see another change this time round, where life simply doesn’t go back to normal. Maybe less of a reliance on an overly engineered business model.

Maybe more nimble than before. Possibly less structured. More entrepreneurial probably. Maybe it’s something truly transformational like a shift from the focus on the bottom line. Turns out it’s about purpose. I really liked what Kate Smith had to say on Linkedin the other day, 

“I think that when this thing is over, brands and businesses are going to be judged by what they did during this crisis, whether they acted to serve people or not, and particularly how they served their own people. It will test the whole notion of Purpose. The emptiness of some and the true meaning of others will be revealed, and some will discover completely new Purposes. Brands can build enormous equity during this time by doing the right thing.”

And with great change comes great opportunity. In 1755 most of Lisbon was destroyed by an earthquake and tsunami, killing as many as 75,000 people. Its economy was stuffed,  but by nurturing local producers and reducing their reliance on British goods, Lisbon’s economy was rebuilt and revitalised. 

Similarly the great fire of London in 1666 led to a massive building reform, including better building regulations and ultimately a safer, cleaner city. 

Change is hard, no one’s doubting that. Just dont expect life to go back to what it was. The agencies who are open to change, ready to shelve their existing plans and are prepared to evolve will be the ones who’ll do well in the “next wave”. And it’s probably what the industry needs to forge a stronger future.

Matt is the managing director of Wellington-based data-driven creative shop, EightyOne, and a partner at DOT loves data

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