Opinion

We know the state of our industry – but what can we do about it?

We Are Social's Suzie Shaw takes a look forward at where the industry is headed, and what tools agencies are going to need to survive.

You’re in luck. I’m not going to write about the consultancies. I’m not going to write about consolidation within holding companies. And I’m not going to write about big data, innovation, or programmatic. Even better, I’m not going to write about AI.

Instead, I thought I’d cover the meta force influencing everything that’s happening in our industry: the pace of change. It’s not exactly news that change is now the only constant, and that it’s occurring at a greater pace than ever before. But what we don’t talk about enough are the practical implications of the new reality.

I don’t think the industry has got to grips with it yet – we seem to exist in a state of shock. Maybe it’s time we decided how to respond.

Now, I’m no tenured professor of organisational change. But I have some real-world experience of the subject. The scope of social has broadened substantially during the past five years, and within the space defined as social, things literally change every day. In order to remain relevant, we’ve needed to adapt constantly. I’ve thought long and hard about how to do this, and I’ve concluded there are three main ingredients to excelling in today’s environment.

1. Hire people who put their hands in the air

The experience of working in a constantly-changing business could be likened to driving along a bumpy road. Some people don’t like bumpy roads. They just never feel comfortable and want to turn off onto a nice smooth highway. But others love it.

If you’re looking for people who will thrive in today’s media environment, look for people who are excited by an off-roading adventure. Actually, maybe that analogy isn’t extreme enough. Let’s say today’s media environment is like riding a rollercoaster.

There are two types of people on a rollercoaster. The first type hang on tight, enduring a white-knuckle ride, simply waiting for it to end. The second type put their hands in the air and enjoy the ride. My experience has been that if you want your company to succeed in today’s environment, you need to hire people who’ll thrive in it. And that means people who put their hands in the air.

2. Change to a culture that embraces change

It’s no longer a competitive advantage to be able to innovate and evolve. It’s an imperative. Adapt or die. Historically, the media industry was most heavily impacted by the economy. In boom times, clients like General Motors, Shell and Unilever spent more advertising dollars, and in recessions, they tightened the screws. But otherwise, their operations didn’t affect us.

Fast forward to today, and the world’s biggest companies – like Facebook, Apple, Amazon and Google – are launching products and services every day which are disrupting our businesses, whether directly or indirectly. Their products and services are driving radical change in the media and consumer landscapes. So there’s only one way to remain relevant and that’s to be in a perpetual state of change.

Modern businesses, those born in the digital era, like BuzzFeed or Uber, seem more fit for this than agencies or brands. They live it: it’s in their culture. We need to live it too. Or we’ll die. Because only companies with an organisational culture that favours reinvention have a future.

3. Firecrackers not rockets

Finally, the industry needs to acknowledge that today, the lifecycle of content is short. It’s hours. Days if you’re lucky. Today’s consumers scroll and skip – they don’t have the tolerance for slow-burn ideas, or repetition. They respond to content that is topical, and of the now. That means we need to produce more copy, more quickly.

It’s no longer about a big, expensive, ‘single-minded’ idea. The days of developing a campaign over many months with a multi-million-dollar production budget are over, because these ‘rockets’ that go up into the air, burn out quickly and are forgotten.

Instead, if they want to engage their audience, brands need to be continually and adeptly sparking conversation and attracting attention with firecrackers. There’s no easy way to master this art. But as with all change, it starts with acceptance.

Suzie Shaw is managing director of We Are Social.

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