The Conversation

2021: A Year in Review

It's been a challenging, yet also rewarding year

By jeremy Lee

Welcome to the final Conversation of 2021. The most important thing to say as we start to wrap up the year is a big thank you to all our members; we're only nine months old but already we've achieved so much thanks to all your support.

At our launch we set out to champion the positive impact that the industry makes to business growth, to the economy, to society and to culture. And while this year hasn't been without its challenges, it has been fantastic to celebrate and explore so many examples of the transformative impact of commercial creativity. This augurs so well for the future.

We've also been able to create a dynamic resource for new diverse talent looking to get a foothold in the industry and we're well on our way to being able to make a meaningful financial contribution to support our inaugural partner in our diversity mission, Brixton Finishing School

And while it's so predictable as to be almost banal to say that the end of the year is a chance to reflect, given the current - and hopefully short-term - uncertainty caused by Omicron, remembering some of the events and achievements of the preceding 12-month period is even more important.

In that spirit we invited some agency leaders to tell us what their key learnings from 2021 were. Whilst each has their own tale to tell based on their own experiences, the overriding consensus has been the importance of connections and togetherness. These are things that we were allowed a tantalising reminder of as the country unlocked in the summer and hopefully we'll be able to enjoy more of in 2022.

Elsewhere in 2021 we saw a large-scale reordering of agency management teams as many chief executives were moved on or sought alternative jobs - either inside or outside the industry. This was no mere rearranging of the deckchairs (as has been seen in previous years) - rather an acknowledgement that the industry is changing, people's priorities are changing and a new breed of leadership is required to navigate us through unsettled times. A Creative Salon survey of agency leaders found that qualities including empathy, emotional intelligence and the ability to manage talent are all crucial among the new breed of CEOs that stepped up to the mark. 

What is also changing - albeit at a frustratingly slow pace - is the representational make-up of the industry. The All In survey conducted by the Advertising Association, ISBA and the IPA still revealed that, despite some progress, there is a dearth of black people in senior positions, a shocking lack of representation of disabled people, and evidence that working class people (particularly white boys) are often excluded from the industry. It made for sobering reading but now that these problems have been quantified and acknowledged there can be no excuses for progress not to be made next year.

It's sometimes easy to forget how powerful the UK is as a hub of global commercial creativity but this year's Cannes Lions Festival was a great reminder. While the physical Cannes was cancelled in favour of a virtual event, the UK could still celebrate winning 11 Grands Prix, five of which were for Essity's '#wombstories' (and its agency Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO picked up Agency of the Year). This made the UK the second-most awarded country behind the US (which submitted four times as many entries).

There has also been the rise of new creative palettes - including developments in shoppable and the launch of the metaverse - though the full creative opportunities have yet to be fully explored; it will be exciting to track progress next year, particularly if the industry can fuse these new creative possibilities with a doubling down on the "humanity" and "sensitivity" that Orlando Wood has shown is essential for brand building. 

With so much to look forward to we can't wait for the New Year. In the meantime - despite being only nine months old - we're looking forward to a nice rest over the next couple of weeks; our newsletter will be back in your inboxes in early January. Until then, we wish you all a very happy and peaceful Christmas break and look forward to catching up - hopefully also in person - very soon.


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