What I learnt in 2022

Life is never boring but 2022 had more drama than most years. Here's what some industry leaders learnt this year

By ian darby

"Death is a part of life - whether it’s at work, whether it’s in your sleep." It's hard to argue with the logic of this statement from Nasser al-Khater, chief executive of the Qatar World Cup. Yet, in the circumstances (another in a long line of migrant workers had died while toiling at a tournament facility), any sense of compassion was glaringly absent.

Still, one death in 2022 was notable in releasing a wave of sentiment and goodwill, with millions across the UK and beyond mourning the loss of Queen Elizabeth II.

As Alison Hoad, chief strategy officer at Publicis Poke, says: "Culturally, I learnt that our nation still hugely values service and community following the Queen’s passing. Endless data points apart, it was personally bought home to me in the behaviours of so many people I knew, who hitherto hadn’t turned out for any kind of Royal celebration, yet surprisingly did so this time."

And, surely, this tumultuous, disconnected, 2022, in which Britain was led by three different Prime Ministers, contained other valuable learning material for advertising's leaders? Some gleaming nuggets of hope studded the despair. It was in this spirit that Creative Salon approached agency leaders, creatives and strategists to discover what they learnt during an undoubtedly unpredictable year.

Beyond external traumas, such as war in Ukraine and the spiralling energy crisis, Simeon Adams, Goodstuff's creative partner, admits: "I had a few difficulties of my own, from a bereavement to health challenges, and more." He says that he learnt to face this by channelling the Queen and appreciating the value of "distance... get some distance".

This distance, he says, could be "mental, metaphorical, physical, geographical, digital, psychological, or durational. Pick your weapon. Don’t call it running away. Distance, and the perspective it gives, helps. As Her Maj herself said of her own annus horribilis: 'Distance is well-known to lend enchantment, even to the less attractive views. After all, it has the inestimable advantage of hindsight'. And she should know, right?"

An approach that's not for everyone. Especially when it comes to the agency work space. Bill Scott, chief executive at Droga5 London, found solace in "the indomitable power of the collective that creative agencies need to protect and be thankful for".

Scott argues that, in the context of the great resignation, talent wars, commercial headwinds, return to the office (or not), and client budget cuts, "the power of coming together in person and showing the world what we're made of is something we in adland need to be grateful for and protect. It's what makes our industry truly unique."

Fiona Gordon, chief executive of Ogilvy UK, is onboard with this after learning "the joy of being together again" after enforced COVID separations. Ogilvy embraced this spirit by staging large events at its Sea Containers HQ, including all-agency Learning Days, brand panel discussions, the launch of its Consumer Equality Equation research, and Nudgestock, the behavioural science festival.

Publicis.Poke's Hoad - beyond supporting twins through A-Levels, and bringing a sense of personal "agency" back into full-time agency life - saw a wider sense of community as a sign of hope in the year. "Writ large again in the outrage expressed, across all income levels, to the proposal of tax relief for higher taxpayers."

It's also apparent that leaving the agency bunker can be a vital source of inspiration. Justin Pahl, chief executive of VMLY&R, cites the "forgotten joy" of travelling to see clients as a major source of learning in 2022: "Clients have got the problems we love to solve. They are smart, nuanced, driven people and it is a privilege to spend time thinking and working with them. Go and see them, spend time with them, understand their world in a deeper way so you can do great things together."

All that sounds exhausting but no problem for Fiona Gordon, who adds that "the energy and positivity generated by physical interaction has been awe-inspiring". However, she cautions, an important piece of knowledge has emerged in terms of learning how to manage personal energy during such a "super hectic year": "Leaders must nurture and maintain their energy so your teams and business can shine."

Alex Grieve, global and London CCO at BBH London, takes his learning from a great story told by Kurt Vonnegut, the American novelist and essayist. As Vonnegut tells it "I'm leaving the house to go and buy an envelope. A single envelope. Order it online, says his wife, save yourself the bother of going out. But I pretend not to hear her. And I go out because I'm going to have a hell of a good time buying one envelope. I'll meet a lot of people. And some great-looking babies. And a fire engine goes by. And I give them a thumbs up. And I'll ask a woman what kind of dog is that. And, and I don't know..."

The moral of the story, Grieve says, is "we're here on earth to fart around. As the perma-crisis settled in, as Prime Ministers came and went, as the pressure of work turned up to 11, these have been the words I turned to."

That's because they contain what Grieve describes as "all we need to know in order to keep calm and not lose our fucking minds. Be curious, be open, and have fun. Look for the good in the world. Do that and life will be better. And, as a beautiful by-product, so will the work."

But this serendipity and a spirit of freedom only gets you so far. Just listen to Justin Pahl on another of his most important insights from 2022: "Don’t get a puppy." It turns out that "Ricky" craps everywhere, sheds hair in every part of the house, needs constant attention, makes it hard to be spontaneous, and chewed through both Pahl's wallet and passport. Yet, in the end, the Pahl family are suckers for Ricky and his big brown eyes: "He even makes pathetic little love growls when you rub his belly. Actually, I take it back. It isn’t a bad idea to get a puppy. You should probably get a puppy."

Meanwhile, Hoad adds that her most essential learning wasn’t to do with family, the industry or nation. But the threat of climate change, which she's learnt more about through involvement with the social enterprise, Grow It Yourself (GIY). In the context of soaring UK food inflation, "if we can help families, communities and schools grow, cook and eat more of their own food we truly can make a difference".

So there where we have it. Create distance, stay together, maintain energy, fart around. Do whatever, as long as it's with low emissions. But advertising's big learnings in 2022 - enjoying a "pathetic growl" from a puppy, supporting children through their first big exams, or finding your own sense of distance - offer a more compassionate alternative to writing off unnecessary human tragedy and trauma as simply "part of life".


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