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Paul Bainsfair 

Everything is going to be alright...

Everything is going to be alright...

The IPA's director-general reflects on the industry's progress during a very difficult year, marked by the crises of climate change and talent shortages.

A year ago I took inspiration from Welsh poet WH Davies and urged you to stand and stare, to take a moment in the melee to think through what matters most to you and your agency in the year ahead.

Now the dust has settled, it appears to me that two things stood out.

First, attaching the buck to the bang

Effectiveness (once seen by some as an add-on!), is now front and centre for nearly every agency: from focus, to processes, to people and to measurement. And rightly so. Creativity without measurement, creates the bang but fails to acknowledge and value the buck.

Never was this interest in effectiveness so clearly observed than by the thousands that signed up to the recent IPA EffWorks Global 2021 Conference.

We gleaned invaluable information on the structural impact of the pandemic on our economy and the knock-on to our industry; on the benefits of embedding effectiveness cultures within our businesses; on the potential power of brand purpose; on developing our understanding of share of search as a metric; and on growing our brands in a more technology-disrupted world; and more.

It was all there. All designed to help agencies and clients put effectiveness at the heart of what they do and what they create to grow their businesses.

Second, neutralising carbon

We have been in the vanguard when it comes to addressing the climate crisis. There are a number of brands working hard on their sustainability offerings and credentials – and agencies, with their creativity and communication expertise, are helping to inform and promote these important sustainability messages. By working closely with their clients, agencies can help to exact change.

We also know that agencies are taking great responsibility for their carbon footprint, as seen in the take-up of the comprehensive cross-industry AdNetZero programme.

This includes the IPA Media Climate Charter, of which signed-up agencies account for over £7bn in 2020 media billings, according to Nielsen. As well as a media carbon calculator, the Charter provides guidance via reports, research and recommendations for industry initiatives such as AdGreen and #ChangeTheBrief, to help reduce the carbon impact of agency operations and influence the work that media agencies produce for clients.

This focus on effectiveness and the climate is vital. But we can and must do more. As one wag once said: “Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there.”

This point draws on Julian Douglas’ presidential 10x agenda for our business to accelerate opportunity. Let’s not tip-toe, let’s make great strides. As UK society reopens and conditions allow, this is made all the more possible.

How we can accelerate change

So, what does this look like in the context of accelerating our efforts on effectiveness and climate?

Regarding effectiveness, the economic and structural changes brought about by the pandemic left some of our agencies having to make stark employment decisions to survive.

Now we are hitting the accelerator we need to have the right people in the right places to make our industry as effective as possible, and yet we face a talent crisis.

To solve this, let’s assess our offering. What’s our USP? Why would people work for us? How do we attract the brightest, most effective and most diverse individuals? What are we paying them? What’s the quality of life working with us?

We need to compete with other industries and we have a great deal to offer. We’re very good at selling products and services, let’s turn to selling ourselves.

To kick this off, the IPA Council of agency heads will be debating salaries and solutions at our December meeting which will inform our strategy next year, all with the acute awareness that people are our currency. We’ll also be running a conference dedicated to talent in late Spring.

We applaud the 19 agencies who have achieved IPA Effectiveness Accreditation this year for proving the effectiveness of their agency cultures and the benefits this reaps. This was the inaugural year and something we hope will gain momentum as more appreciate the value it brings across the board and the demonstration it makes to clients.

I urge those yet to start on their effectiveness journeys to start and to gain acknowledgement of this success through accreditation.

Coupled with this, but focussing more on the results, the IPA Effectiveness Awards take place this year – for any client and agency keen to prove the success of their communications activity in creating and delivering value, this world stage is theirs.

We’ve also got new special prizes for cases demonstrating their wider positive impact and ability to drive behavioural change, while pro-bono work can now be submitted for free. By entering, you’re not just demonstrating your value, you’re growing our industry’s databank of collective learning, helping us all to raise the bar.

In terms of our climate action, COP26 may have recently concluded, but I think we all know that this is where the hard work really starts.... We must all continue to engage with developments from the AdNetZero initiative and play our individual part for the collective good.

One of the most immediate and productive ways to demonstrate this commitment, to grow your understanding and to learn how to embed sustainable goals into your work and working practices, is by taking the recently launched Ad Net Zero Essentials Certificate.

Priorities in check

There is clearly a lot more to be done, and there will no doubt be additional hurdles in our way – from the ongoing pandemic rollercoaster, to supply shortages and soaring inflation levels, to name but a few. But we mustn’t overlook how far we’ve come. We’ve been through the most trying times and we were not found wanting.

We are now in a much better place: the vaccination roll-out in the UK has been a huge success and the booster programme is well under way, new ways of working are bedding in, marketing budgets are up according to our IPA Bellwether Report, and business and environmental priorities are firmly in check.

And so finally, as I sit here writing, with the light streaming through the window, let’s end the year with a bit more verse, this time from Derek Mahon.

The sun rises in spite of everything

and the far cities are beautiful and bright.

I lie here in a riot of sunlight

watching the day break and the clouds flying.

Everything is going to be all right.

Here’s to a healthy, happy and prosperous 2022!

Paul Bainsfair is director-general at the IPA

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