3 Big Themes from Ad Week Europe – Complexity, Collaboration and Karma

Jamie Toward, Head of Content at MEC UK, shares with us three main themes that were clearly apparent across Ad Week Europe 2015.

This was the week that AdWeek Europe really showed that it can hold its own amongst the great festivals of the marketing and creative industry (if that’s what the ‘industry’ is these days). So that’s the first big theme that came up for me:

1.        The energy around the BAFTA campus was totally infectious. The scale and quality of the entire event was palpable and can only reflect well on all those involved from industry luminaries to the volunteers who helped move the chairs around on the stages.

The diversity of the people on stage and in panels was remarkable. From agency-land movers and shakers like Sorrell and Levy, through rock star creatives, real rock stars (Nile Rodgers and Ellie Goulding among others), top athletes, TV and film talent and politicos the variety of opinion and subject matter was almost bewildering.

I guess that heady mix was what took the energy levels so high (though perhaps not as high as the towering Manolos that Co-Producer of the event Kathleen Saxton was wearing on Thursday) – there was, for me at least, a sensation that the industry was reaching into areas of debate beyond where it had gone before.
If there was one criticism to be made of all of this it would be that the crowd seemed to include too many of our industries more senior figures and that, perhaps, there weren’t enough of the next generation of talent being exposed to the vibrant stimulus of the speakers. Next year it would be great if all the stakeholder organisations (the agencies, media owners, producers, educators and tech providers) made a real effort to get their more ‘junior’ players along for more concerted periods of time. There’s so much to take in in such a short period of time that you can easily take on a year’s worth of inspiration and education in just a few short days

2.       The industry recognized its own complexity like never before. The vague attempt above to categorise the stakeholders involved in our industry is a good indicator on this. Marketing and creative services are pushing into new areas of technology and production like never before and the complexity of contemporary marketing solutions shone through in the variety of people there.

There was a huge amount of debate around how the industry can organize itself to begin to make this complexity of stakeholders manageable. There was an epic debate around whether the full service agency should have life breathed back in to it (view it here) with some fairly different viewpoints being offered. Personally I think that the commercial imperatives driven by conflict management mean that it’s difficult for full service to return in the guise that it’s previously been seen. BUT…that doesn’t mean that we won’t see full service return in a holding company guise or indeed on a bespoke team approach as exemplified by the Havas Village.

Verra Budimlija, Chief Strategy Office at MEC, and myself spoke on this subject too and we weren’t the only ones to touch on the idea of collaboration being required to produce the increasingly sophisticated and complex marketing solutions that seem to be a requirement for the modern era.

You can see the video of our piece here. We dive into the idea that ideas need to be rebalanced as the currency of success (and commercial success) in our industry with a currency that’s based on a measure of collaboration. We were both massively helped out by Dan’l Hewitt from Maker Studio, Craig Mawdsley from AMVBBDO and Alistair Campbell from Guardian Labs – it’s nice to be able to take this opportunity to thank them publicly for their help in delivering what I think was a reasonably provocative session.

3.       This was also the year the industry took the opportunity to stare into the Abyss of its own soul. Personally I felt one of the most interesting points of the whole week was this session with Peter Oborne, Mariella Frostrup, Tess Alps and Lord Bell. Oborne pretty much calls out the entire industry as being populated by people without morality and indeed states ‘advertising is not only the sewer but the sewage’. Clearly Oborne has some points and I think is largely being misconstrued in the way this particular session was reported but there’s definitely a case of ‘know your audience’ here and I fear he’s railing against the dying of the light in that where Editorial and Commercial used to be mortal enemies I suspect there’s now the existence of a fairly cooperative entente cordial between the two these days. And that doesn’t have to mean that the separation of church and state has wholly resolved.

I thought Oborne’s slight tirade was well counter-balanced by this session hosted by the Media Trust. It’s clear from the passion and heartfeltness of the commentary from this panel that the industry is far from devoid of morality – rather that more than ever before it’s conscious of the perils of naked subservience to the commercial imperative and the need to demonstrate that public good can flow from what is at heart a fun industry largely populated by hard working conscientious people.

On the whole then a great AdWeek with more great content than you could shake a stick at…bring on next year…