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Our regular Trending series brings together the industry's biggest figures to discuss what's on their mind. And for the first time, we're including readers to join in the debate, via our LinkedIn page.

If you‘d like to join in the discussion, join us on LinkedIn where we're posting the next Trending prompt. We‘ll include the best responses in print and online.

This month, we ask: what’s making you optimistic about the future? After all, where there’s a crisis...

tanya joseph
 
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Tanya Joseph, managing director, Hill+Knowlton Strategies

The last few months have been tough and, even for Pollyannas like me, the future can seem really bleak. The pandemic is far from eradicated, the economic outlook is pretty grim and we still haven’t worked out our international trade relations in a post-Brexit world. 

But there are a couple of chinks of light in the darkness ahead. First, I have been really struck by the creativity many in our industry have displayed since the pandemic struck. With plans having to be abandoned practically overnight, many brands (in-house and agencies teams) responded rapidly, coming up with new campaigns which were empathetic, striking the right tone and avoiding seeming exploitative. 

It is easy to take our creativity and responsiveness for granted. These were a timely reminder. 

Second, after years of talking about race and racism and being met with blank expressions and/or eye rolling, I am heartened by the number of organizations that are now actively talking to me about race and other diversity and inclusion issues. We should not lose sight of the importance of equality and justice as the going gets tough, in fact they are the values we need to get us through. 

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Ian McLernon, chief executive of the Americas, Remy Cointreau

The world has changed dramatically during the Covid-19 pandemic. I believe that consumers have and will increasingly go back to fundamentals, whereby individual health and safety will be of primary importance and increased value placed on genuine intrinsic (compared with superficial external) human interactions and authentic interactions with brands. 

Even more than in the past, listening to and understanding consumers motivations will be central to the success (or failure) of brands. The role of marketing will evolve to be the consumers seat in the boardroom, and the communication flow will be much more from the consumer than from the brand speaking at or to them. This creates a major opportunity to re-establish ands or assert the important role of marketing. 

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Rania Robinson, executive creative director, Quiet Storm

I set out to do three things at the beginning of this year: see more of my kids, see more of the world and continue running a successful company. With all my travel plans scuppered due to Covid-19, two out of three isn’t bad. 

Having a more connected family life while also being able to focus on business is one of the things I feel most optimistic about. It is now universally recognized that you don’t need to be in the office or traveling across the country or the world for business to do a good job. Which naturally leaves more room for family life. 

The other thing that is long overdue, but feels like it has reached a genuine tipping point (albeit sadly due to horrific circumstances), is the recognition that the industry needs to drive meaningful and sustainable change when it comes to bringing in, retaining and enabling much needed diverse talent to thrive in our industry. The inequalities and missed opportunities for the industry can no longer be ignored or tolerated and will lead to more successful outcomes for our businesses and society as a whole.

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Louise Hodges, head of consumer communications, Virgin Money

I think there has been a step-change in the way consumers want to be marketed to over recent months and this will fundamentally alter how marketing will look in the future. Covid shined a light on the best and the worst of marketing. Some brands got it spot on and realized a global pandemic is not the time for a hard sell, while others have been tone deaf and won’t be remembered fondly. 

Brands have had to be agile like never before and huge campaigns months in planning have been derailed and replaced by quick-response advertising with a core message relevant to a world where people are stuck at home and fearful. Marketeers have learned they can do more with less, can act faster in a time of crisis and that being a genuinely good corporate citizen is more important than ever. 

Black Lives Matter, too, has changed how the marketing industry thinks about diversity. We’ll see more of a focus on a world where all races and persuasions are represented. On this, though: foolish is the company that thinks it can ‘woke-wash’ the consumer with an ad campaign talking about how diverse it is when the company board is 95% male, stale and pale. Diversity is not about tokenism. It must run deep and run true. Brands will need to get their diversity house in order or be called out. 

Finally, putting the customer first is something that will never cease to be the most important consideration when building a truly great marketing approach. At Virgin Money we’ve been delighted by how positively our customers and colleagues alike have responded to our new direction – putting music into the heart of our brand. We are at the beginning of this road, but already the launch of the UK’s first socially-distanced music venue (The Virgin Money Unity Arena) has been met with joy and excitement – something we all need now in spades. 

We hope to build on what we’ve started and bring live music back to the UK in the coming months. 

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Sorcha John, managing director, Iris Singapore

While Covid-19 took a sledgehammer to our straining mechanisms of order (be it the business model, our global purpose or our daily rhythm), it has also brought with it a welcome resurgence of global empathy – an essential trait that had seemingly lost its way in the agency landscape.  

So I’m optimistic that this backdrop of destruction, creativity and rebirth are the most productive environments for us to imagine a future that goes beyond the limitations of our current one. Paired with a restored sense of empathy, we might have magic.   

History tells us that the transformations forged during an economic crisis will vibrantly fill the landscape of a post-recession economy. Saying that out loud feels glib and opportunist amid an ongoing humanitarian crisis, but it is no less true. Adopting a framework and posture of long term innovation is the only sure fire way to prepare for emergence on the other side. 

We, as active members of society with creatively trained and problem solving minds, should have learned by now that we can change anything. So let’s!

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Pete Markey, chief marketing officer, TSB

The last few weeks have been extremely challenging for agencies and clients, and the phrase ‘unprecedented times’ has been overused (but rightly so). 
I remain optimistic, though, that our industry can bounce back and see a resurgence as we emerge into whatever the new normal holds. Brands still need growth and to do so need a competitive edge – and in my experience, great strategy, creative and media buying are essential ingredients to make this happen. 
In uncertain times, consumers look to brands they know and trust, and we still gravitate to brands that we can relate to and which really understand and are relevant to us. Through the past 17 weeks at TSB, I’ve seen firsthand the importance of being a brand that helps support customers through a time of immense challenge and change. For me, the most successful brands will be those that continue to operate in this mode and keep engaging customers in the right way. 

So I am confident that we still need great brands, great strategies and great creative work (no more Zoom-style ads). All of this will be key as we step into whatever season we enter next.

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Emma Chiu, global director, Wunderman Thompson

2020 has become a pivotal year for companies, governments and people (move aside millennium year). Despite the hardship weighing heavily on multiple industries right now, there is an underlying hopefulness of what we can collectively do to rebuild. 

We have reached a tipping point with unethical, unfair, unjust rules and regulations that have long been ingrained in societal norms. 2020 is offering people the time to pause, reflect and rethink what our future should look like. Industries are given the opportunity to lead the way by taking on a civic and even philanthropic roles. Creative industries in particular are conveying powerful messages that can better people’s health and wellbeing, messages that stands up for inequalities and messages that can bring people together for good causes. 

In short, the old normal had a lot of flaws and now the world is laying the foundations not just for a new normal, but a better normal – one that is sustainable, ethical and built on values that protect the people and the planet. 

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Elliot Maher, co-founder, Rising Tyde

Honestly, I feel this is one of the most exciting times for brands and agencies. I think we’re seeing some of the best work come out now – work that is truly customer-focused. Brands and agencies are finally realizing the most innovative ways to use data and technology to reach customers. 

Before, many were too busy and wrapped up in business-as-usual to be curious enough to properly experiment, so boundary-pushing new ideas that might have taken years to come to life have been pushed through in weeks. 

That’s what’s inspired me about this time – the brands that have turned a crisis into their biggest creative opportunity. It has shown us what people can really do and what’s really possible, and that’s what’s so promising about the future of the industry. As brands take stock of how their customer has changed in the last few months, I’m really excited to see what the next big developments in customer experience are going to be.

peter jackson
 
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Peter Jackson, visual identity and brand design

Somewhere along the way, we had managed to be uncreative. We started second-guessing, offering pick and mix ideas. Straw men for burning and blue ducks to be meddled with. 

Lockdown has seen inspired, self-initiated projects. Left to its own devices, remote working has encouraged a reconnection with the creative spirit and found ways to overcome blocks. It should never be just about managing.

The new edition of The Drum examines what the road back to the 'new normal' looks like for our everday essential businesses and services – our banks, retailers, schools, restaurants and cities – and whether changing consumer demands will see them evolve.