It seems astonishing that it was less than a year ago that some agencies shut up shop temporarily to allow their staff to participate in the Extinction Rebellion protests that hit London.
Taking part in a mass gathering now is rather more difficult because of social distancing rules but the opportunity to reset presented by the coronavirus crisis, which also forced brands, agencies and media owners to shut up shop, albeit on a lengthier basis, is one that the industry needs to seize.
It is also imperative that advertising takes what has been a hugely negative occasion and tries to find some positives. At the moment, those positives are still in embryonic form, as the industry, much like the rest of the country, cautiously unbattens the hatches.
Many marketing services companies are not yet ready to open their doors, and many staff – or, at least the ones that still have jobs – aren’t ready to return anyway. The kaleidoscope that the pandemic shook up is still in flux, and its pieces will take time to settle.
Trotting out the line "Never waste the opportunity of a good crisis" has become standard journalistic fare, and agencies, as well as some clients and media owners, have done exactly this. The industry is smaller and leaner, although bosses will be hoping that they haven’t cut too far and too fast if the Bank of England’s prediction of a rapid V-shaped recovery comes to pass.
The machinery of advertising has also continued to function, with pitches held for hefty accounts such as Three and Walkers. Once again, agencies have adapted to the conditions that social distancing necessitated. Whether this has been for the better or will lead to systemic change in the medium and long term is a question that both clients and agencies will want answered.
More profound yet has been the change to culture. The Black Lives Matter movement has renewed calls for real change in tackling racial inequality and the ad industry must respond – through action, not just words. This is not optional or a small addendum to add to the back of an agency’s creds presentations (whether they are presented virtually or face to face). Equally, as is pointed out in a series of essays (to be published online in the coming days), the country’s unique, shared experience of lockdown has led to creative and spiritual soul-searching and the opportunity for exciting cultural changes.
In the wake of those agency staffers joining Greta Thunberg’s movement on the streets in 2019, now is also the opportunity for agencies to promote sustainability. Congratulations are therefore due to a consortium of agencies, including Iris, Wieden & Kennedy, McCann, Gravity Road and Thinkhouse, which have created a campaign urging people to embrace a "new normal" of sustainable living and continue the progress made in tackling climate change.
The "Great Reset" is a follow-up to last year’s "Create and Strike", a competition held by ad industry network Purpose Disruptors, which urged creatives to amplify the message of the climate crisis. It aims to use the power of creativity to persuade people to change the way they live their lives. This may seem counterintuitive, given that the past few months seem mostly to have been about stockpiling and the mass availability of disposable PPE. Certainly the sight of streets littered with cast-off protective gloves and face masks show there is much urgent work to be done.
While we pick ourselves up and dust ourselves down – weary but resolute – now is the ideal time to change the industry, and the world, for the better.
This is not just a restart and a rebuild. It is an opportunity to reset. Let’s get to work.