According to science, it literally took billions of years for a single cell to evolve into a multicellular organism. Evolution does not happen overnight without some sort of external stimulus. That stimulus can come in the form of an asteroid destroying the dominant species (aka dinosaurs) and leapfrogging mammals into a position of dominance. Or it can take the form of a global pandemic which massively disrupts consumer and corporate behavior, thrusting an already growing digital ecosystem into the primary way of brand communication and solidifying the predominance of business outcomes as a primary KPI.
Whether you call it “planning and buying” or “strategy and investment,” whichever line you fall on the brand vs. direct response or paid media vs. pr spectrum, the marketing and communications industry has been exponentially disrupted over the past 18 months. No doubt, change was already well under way over the past decade with the focus on data and analytics, machine learning and AI. That change was being managed slowly, methodically and with the traditional dichotomy of trying to ensure that current profitable business models were not disrupted while encouraging innovation and a measured amount of manageable change.
Then came the pandemic, coupled with a massive shift in the media landscape due to streaming video and the rise of social video, along with the start of a global privacy debate. With this kind of disruption in a compressed time, there is bound to be whiplash and a dash of chaos. PHD took that chaos head-on in its latest publication, the tenth of its series of thought leadership books, Shift: A Marketing Rethink.
In the introduction to Shift, Philippa Brown, Chief Executive Officer of PHD Worldwide, lays out the purpose of the guide as a way to help “marketers and agencies rethink the way they structure their marketing” by taking a look back at the changes that have occurred over the past decade, “and then [a] look forward to how we can reorganize and build for the future.”
Mark Holden, Global Strategy and Planning Director for PHD Media, explains that the underlying purpose of the book is “to equip ourselves, our clients, and the wider industry, to get ahead of change. To start building tomorrow, today.”
Shift claims a collaborative authorship which reads like a Who’s Who of top executives in the advertising and marketing industry, including PHD Media Global Chief Talent Officer Kate King and Senior Vice President Marketplace Intelligence at Omnicom Media Group, Ben Hovaness, along with contributions from other industry luminaries, including Scott Hagedorn, CEO of Omnicom Media Group Americas; Andrew Robertson, CEO of BBDO Worldwide, and Mark Ritson, Marketing Consultant. Additional input is provided by Unilever, Pepsi, Diageo, Volkswagen, Audi, HP and more.
Shift is divided into five chapters that take the reader into the heart of the challenge for marketing today and then provides a plan and a roadmap forward. This journey begins with the first chapter, which takes the reader on a journey of marketing in the 21st century, adding layers and layers of complexity through which it directly compares to the turmoil and exponential change of the Cambrian period.
In the world of corporations, which have always been slow to change due to embedded legacy and Wall Street risk aversion, these moments where external stimuli force disruption can either be looked on with fear or as great opportunities. Fight or flight. For some, it can even throw them in an existential crisis, not unlike a midlife crisis. It is this “marketing midlife crisis” with which the second chapter concerns itself.
During the recent Cannes Lions event, Mark Holden, Global Strategy and Planning Director for PHD Media, spoke about Shift and this comparison to a midlife crisis. “Most industries suffer from some form of dysfunction,” he said. “For those coming into the industry now, at this moment of transition, there’s a real opportunity to come into the business and push things forward. Had we said the opposite in Shift, that the industry is ‘all set,’ ‘everything is going brilliantly,’ ‘don’t rock the boat,’ ‘don’t change anything,’ then we would have really turned off new entrants, as it would have been too constraining.”
While not implying that the marketing industry has gone out and bought a shiny new red convertible, it identifies the move toward short-term marketing thinking, efficiency over growth goals as an example of “impulsive decision making,” a typical attribute of a midlife crisis. Another commonality, “thoughts about infidelity,” is analogous to the increased frequency in “pitchapalooza” years, where there is an inordinate amount of large, high-worth, once-considered-stable accounts put into review.
Shift takes the reader through a therapy session and breaks down the types of midlife crises an organization can experience into five archetypes, with the goal of being able to provide solutions to more quickly recuperate from them.
Reading about the complexity and the challenges of the marketing and media industry is daunting. It can make you truly question: Is there a way out of this? Is there a model that works for the marketer, the consumer, and the agency?
After laying out the challenges that the industry currently faces, Shift provides a path forward. How we should re-organize ourselves and also the new marketing roles of the future that we need to start hiring today?