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What are agency leaders most looking forward to in 2023?

As a new year begins, we caught up with some agency chiefs to find out what they hope 2023 has in store

By Creative Salon

In lore, at least, the turn of a new year brings with it great excitement and possibility - both personal and professional. In reality, it seems that despite the ongoing problems brought on by social, economic and political instability, this positivity has also filtered through into the advertising industry.

How are agency leaders faring with all this uncertainty, what are they doing to overcome it and what are they most looking forward to in 2023?

Planning for growth

Despite last year's instability, many agencies are actually rather optimistic about the year to come, opting to continue expanding on the foundations laid in 2022.

Sam Hawkey, CEO at AMV BBDO, has a very clear plan: "We're going on the attack. Everything is in place and we took 12 months to get that right, so now it's all offensive."

Chris Kay, CEO at Saatchi & Saatchi, is similarly focussed: "This year we're committed to watching our team smash it as they continue on our ambition and journey."

MSQ is equally bullish, with global chief executive Peter Reid saying: "We want to take the US by storm. At least, that’s the plan. There’s a great opportunity to pioneer our multi-disciplinary model there. And from the clients we’ve spoken to so far, there’s real appetite for an agile, truly joined-up, post-holding company approach.

"We’ve spent the last 18 months laying the groundwork, building an enviable leadership team and we’ve brought Smarts, Walk-In Media and MBAstack to the region."

Meanwhile Atomic's chief executive Jon Goulding believes his agency's independence will prove a real asset this year. "We're striving for accelerated growth despite the economic downturn," he says. "Independent agency success fortunately is not beholden to economic trends and our proposition of Brand Building in the Age of Performance has never been more relevant for clients. By being creatively disruptive with it, we’ll find growth in all sorts of places."

So 2023 is ripe with opportunity and there's no need to shy away from dreaming big in spite of economic challenges.

Getting more creative

The most tangible evidence of success is effective and distinctive creative output and Bill Scott, CEO of Droga5 London and UK & Ireland managing director of Accenture Song, says that demonstrating this will become more important in 2023. "As we enter rough commercial times, we're showing more than ever how creativity can play an even bigger and more indispensable role for our clients and their businesses," he says.

Creativity is again a major focus for Annette King, the UK CEO of Publicis Groupe, this year. "Creativity has always been one of the most powerful conduits for driving change and whilst there is no denying that the current economic uncertainty will bring about challenges, advertising has a knack for conjuring up some of our biggest and best ideas when the world needs it most."

The&Partnership's CEO Sarah Golding (bar dreaming of a holiday) has also set her sights on real creative momentum: "I’m looking forward to building on our streak of memorable campaigns for our clients but more than that, I’m looking forward to seeing how we ramp up The&Academy [the agency's apprenticeship scheme] – and excited to see it go bigger and beyond Birmingham."

If it ain't broke...

Naturally amid all the 'new year, new you' resolutions, there are those that are ploughing a proven successful furrow.

Karen Martin, CEO at BBH London, is one such example: "We're hoping for more of the same; we’ve got a brilliant creative department with a different shape of work and a new Black Sheep Studios team.

"We’ve had some nice wins in 2022, with nice work and there’s just more to come. BBH is on the up and we’re all feeling it."

It's something Larissa Vince, chief executive at TBWA\London shares: "It's the same every year - I can’t wait to see all the brilliant work that we have percolating in the agency out in the world... Plus I hope Forest staying in the Premier League."

While hopes that Forest avoid relegation are in the hands of the Gods, the start of the year also brings with it an opportunity for reflection and learning after bigger structural changes last year.

This is something Goodstuff's co-founder Andrew Stephens is actively taking on board after the agency was bought by Stagwell. "We’ve spent a lot of time... understanding where and how Stagwell can enhance our product and service offering and we will begin rolling this out in 2023," he says.

And intentionally and strategically mapping out the year ahead based on proven success is the approach of Guy Sellers, Total Media's group CEO: "Starting with the knowledge, experience and gains we made over the last three years offers confidence for 2023. Coupled with a sense that clients are looking favourably on the independent media sector we are looking forward to what the year holds."

Predictable unpredictability

Of course, a new year offers the prospect of something new unfolding - and not necessarily knowing what the future will bring can prove exciting in itself.

Rob Curran, CXO and co-founder at New Commercial Arts, says: "We’re most looking forward to more of the same unpredictable adventures that this industry so reliably serves up each and every year. It's consistently impossible to predict the work you'll sweat over, the incredible talent you'll work with, the places you'll go, the brands and customers you'll serve, and the problems we'll solve. And most of all, we’re looking forward to creating more and more opportunities for people who might not have otherwise had the chance, to join in those adventures."

Gareth Mercer, founder at Pablo, similarly relishes the unknown: "I’m really excited to see how the group develops next. We have a restless team of very humble entrepreneurs at Pablo. 2022 has given them more confidence and experience than ever before. They have real value to add to brand owners and I can't wait to see what adventures 2023 throw their way."

Weber Shandwick has also undergone considerable change in 2022 and enters the new year with confidence, according to Michael Frohlich, global chief transformation officer and EMEA CEO. "The turn of a new year always presents an opportunity for fresh starts, and for growth," he says. "A lot has changed... within Weber Shandwick, and I’m thrilled to be going into 2023 with a full EMEA leadership team, all equally inspired and determined to deliver industry leading work for our clients.

"Against the backdrop of a rapidly changing world, we have the opportunity to provide stability for our clients and drive real impact in creative communications... I can’t wait to see us use these skills to solve our clients’ most complex problems and show the potential that brands truly have to bring about positive change in society."

VMLY&R's joint CEOs Michelle Whelan and Justin Pahl are also excited by the prospect of growth and new work: "We're keen to see all of our hard work take off next year as we continue to grow."

Charlie Rudd, chief executive at Leo Burnett is the same: "We're looking forward to seeing what we can achieve after we’ve had a little rest over Christmas."

And it's something FCB Inferno's CEO Katy Wright, also delights in: "I’m up for 2023, so bring it... That and the Women’s World Cup."

Future-gazing

A new year is also a time for predicting change.

Pip Hulbert, CEO at Wunderman Thompson, says: "I’m looking forward to seeing how consumer habits change, and how creative we can get when we flex to those new behaviours. After a year when we’ve gone from pseudo-lockdown to economic fear, with everything in between, it’s more important than ever to understand where people are and what they’re talking about – it’s the only way we’ll ever be able to own conversation. Brands are starting to notice that what works for TV doesn’t work on TikTok, and they’re looking to agencies to help them work smarter, not harder, across different channels. 2023 might be a tricky time, but it’s also a big opportunity for creativity to shine."

Katie Mackay-Sinclair, partner at Mother, agrees: "We're excited about the very thing that was the biggest challenge of 2022: project-based working. For us and our people, the opportunity to reimagine how we work together and with our clients, and the phenomenal breadth of new opportunities are cause for excitement, not fear. 2022 has seen us build the foundations to really embrace the seismic shifts that are our new reality. We’re going to be launching some very exciting campaigns that I’m not allowed to talk about yet, but that have energised and excited us as we close out the year."

2022 brought with it a renewed focus on technology, with the emergence of new innovations and products which changed how consumers interacted and behaved online.

It's something Mark Eaves, co-founder at Gravity Road, noticed: "Digital had become a bit limiting creatively: it was ever shorter pieces of video being distributed on one of four platforms. But now - it’s like a new era of genuine creating - making things - is back. There’s the banal stuff that just makes life faster - creating mood boards by prompts, etc. But that’s just operations.

"2023 will make this year feel like a mere prelude to Generative technologies. Only the very fastest will keep up - the others will just continue writing Linkedin posts talking about it. Crucially for us, brands need experienced partners who can guide them into these new vistas of competitive advantage."

So, in short, 2023 should see the industry enhancing what worked well in the past and adopting new techniques and technology to embrace the future. To paraphrase Donald Rumsfield, there will be known unknowns and unknown unknowns. Both should be met with confidence.

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