Nicola Merrifield
Jun 9, 2023

Ad agencies and marketers fear hybrid working ‘undermines’ creativity

A new industry consultation commissioned by Thinkbox says remote working is one of several barriers to creativity.

Hybrid working: a barrier to creativity? (Photo:Getty)
Hybrid working: a barrier to creativity? (Photo:Getty)

Advertising agencies and clients say that hybrid working is a threat to creativity, according to the advertising strategist behind new research from Thinkbox.

Too much time spent on video calls and not enough working together in person in the office risks “undermining” creative output, said Laurence Green at an event in London yesterday, reporting back on interviews with 34 senior creative agency and client practitioners.

While some areas of agency work can be done remotely, such as strategy and elements of craft, agency bosses and marketers stressed that the best creative work comes from teams getting to know each other in person and having informal conversations around meetings, Green said.

TV marketing body Thinkbox commissioned Green to find out the barriers to, and enablers for, producing creative work among ad agencies and marketers.

Green, who next month joins the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising as its director of effectiveness, spoke to agencies including Adam & Eve/DDB, Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, Lucky Generals, VCCP and Neverland, as well as chief marketers from brands including Boots, Sainsbury's and McDonald’s.

The industry consultation, called From good (work) to great (work): improving the odds, found that the biggest obstacle to creativity is too little time spent establishing a common mission. That was followed by the complexity of delivering the work – including the high frequency of decision-making by CMOs and the large number of assets agencies need to create.

Other barriers identified were a focus on short-termism and performance marketing, a climate of risk-aversion due to potential social media backlash and a lack of access to senior decision-makers at brands, such as the chief executive, as well as the threat of hybrid working.

At the event yesterday, Green told an audience of industry leaders: “I have to honour what I heard from agencies and clients alike and there is a fear – a genuine fear – that hybrid working and too many calls by Zoom, especially in the creative field, especially if you’re buying or selling creative work, is actually in danger of at least sandpapering the ideas and executions that we end up airing and at [worst] undermining them completely.

“I am not here to make the case for going back to the office but the agencies I spoke to have broadly set out their stand as ‘offices are good’ for the business we are in, the business of creative development.”

He added: “There’s so much stuff around the edges and I fear we lose, as the chief executive of one very good, winning agency says, ‘the sparks and serendipity which is the final 2%’.

“The final 2% is the really hard yards, but it is also the bit that makes stuff truly magical and gives you geometric returns as a client rather than just arithmetic returns.”

He noted that the marketers he spoke with were “at pains to say also we would never do a pre-production meeting on Zoom”.

His comments echo those made by Martin Jones, counsel to AAR and adviser to creative agencies through his consultancy Dr Jones, who told Campaign TV in its first episode of a new video series that “the quicker we can get away from virtual chemistry meetings the better”.

Jones said chemistry between agency team members was crucial for marketers to see and that if the meeting had to take place on video with an international client, then the agency should at least be in the office together.

As part of the Thinkbox work, Green outlined seven key actions identified by agencies and brands that can foster creativity, including better briefing, allocating resources against outcomes not inputs, and learning from the success of Christmas ads. 

The full findings from the consultation will be published in a white paper, due to be released later this month.

Campaign UK

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