'Creative agencies are fucked': Livity's Emily Goldhill on power of purpose

Goldhill works for youth-led creative network Livity
Goldhill works for youth-led creative network Livity

The strategic lead calls out shops not making enough of their role in society.

This is Emily Goldhill. She works as strategic lead for U.K.-based Livity and believes "creative agencies are fucked."

She stressed that the search for amazing client work has left many shops redundant and stifled in activating real cultural change during a talk at SXSW on Saturday in Austin, Texas.  

"I’m not saying creative agencies don’t know about purpose -- you absolutely do -- but too often you’re the one delivering great work for the brands that have the purpose, rather than having your own clear direction," Goldhill told a crowd at the British Music Embassy’s venue.

She defines agency purpose as "an aspirational reason for being that drives and unites your business to make the world better."

Goldhill explained: "If you don’t have that, you’re selling yourself short and frankly you’re being wasteful: you’re wasting valuable time, valuable money and valuable creative. All you’re doing is reducing the creative industry to one that just makes nice content. Yes, it puts a smile on your face, but what is it actually doing?"

She called out work Ogilvy UK recently did for British Airways’ 100th anniversary. The 90-second spot celebrates all things Great Britain. But at a time when the country is struggling to be at ease with itself in the midst of Brexit, Goldhill said there was a real missed opportunity to do something more unifying.

"It fell flat," she said. "It ended up being a nice piece of content that left you feeling nice."

Goldhill highlighted Patagonia as the shining beacon of purpose-led brands. When the company found out one of its manufacturers was unethical, it ended the contract within eight hours. On Black Friday, instead of slashing prices, it donated profits to grassroot organizations.

"What I’m getting at is this idea that purpose is business critical," she continued.

"You need to be able to say ‘no.’ This is really hard for creative agencies because we are primed to say ‘yes’ to clients -- ‘yes’ to the brief because our focus is on that bottom line and getting that money in.

"With agency purpose, you’re not going to please everybody. And that’s okay because otherwise how are you meant to stand out?"

Goldhill explained that Livity has turned down work from big brands including alcohol companies because it doesn’t align with agency business.

She added: "With agency purpose, it makes getting up in the morning that much better. I’ve worked at big agencies where I essentially got paid to go and make people fat. Now I do a job that I love. I don’t sell shit and it’s actually gratifying."

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