For Fast Company’s Shape of Tomorrow series, we’re asking business leaders to share their inside perspective on how the COVID-19 era is transforming their industries. Here’s what’s been lost—and what could be gained—in the new world order.
Kirsten Flanik, president and CEO of BBDO New York, leads the New York office for the global agency network and creates work for clients such as Foot Locker, Pedigree, M&Ms, and AT&T. The firm also develops award-winning cyberbullying campaigns with Monica Lewinsky.
[The pandemic] has probably been one of the biggest tests that I’ve ever faced. We’ve had to adapt our production methods entirely, but we’ve been able to take a lot of that in-house. And as a result, we’ve launched what we’re calling the Creative Development Studios. It’s a new arm of our in-house production studio that is direct-to-studio. So we have makers embedded in the studio who can produce rapid-fire content on a budget from ideation through editorial, no matter how big or small. This new capability is also allowing us to capture revenue that existing clients might have otherwise been spending elsewhere.
Kirsten Flanik, president and CEO of BBDO New York
We’ve had to adapt our production methods entirely.”
Jan Jacobs is CEO and cofounder of Johannes Leonardo, an award-winning independent agency that works with brands including Adidas, Volkswagen, Kraft Heinz, Mass Mutual, and The Gap.
In the past, we would fly six people [somewhere] for a meeting or new business pitch and then fly right back the same day, sometimes. Four or five agencies [might] be doing the same thing, and you do it once or twice throughout the pitch process. I think of the carbon footprint, the hours of time involved in those things, and that’s all gone now. I hope it stays that way. Because you can do those same gut-check meetings remotely.
Jan Jacobs, CEO and cofounder of Johannes Leonardo
I think of the carbon footprint.”
The entire working world has suddenly had physical, practical training in how to use technology. Before the pandemic, you’d walk into a boardroom and no one knows how to get the thing going, how to dial anybody. Now, suddenly, we, clients, suppliers, you name it—everyone has been trained. That’s a wonderful thing. In the future, [if] 10% or 20% of the company is on a flex day that day, then you just quickly dial them in because everybody knows how to do it.
Danny Robinson is the chief creative officer at the Martin Agency, the Richmond, Virginia-based firm with a client roster that includes Geico, Old Navy, DoorDash, and Buffalo Wild Wings.
As you might guess by looking at me, the need for change isn’t lost on me. For those reading this, I’m a Black man. For us, progress is working primarily because we started building it a long time ago. It’s proof that change doesn’t require a dramatic event, if you’re committed at the top to change and know that change is work and isn’t just a moment in time.
Danny Robinson, chief creative officer at the Martin Agency
You have to know inside the building that you aren’t invisible, that people see you.”
You have to know inside the building that you aren’t invisible, that people see you, that you have a voice, and you can speak that voice. You have stories you want to tell. We will listen to those stories. Everyone has to be able to contribute, and we have to allow space for everyone to contribute.
There’s a quote—it’s not mine—that says, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I’ll spend the first four sharpening the ax.” We’ve been sharpening the ax, and in March a tree sprouted, then a lot of trees. We have been as successful as we have been at this point because we’ve been ready and we’re going to keep sharpening. Because if something else is going to happen—I don’t know what it is, and it doesn’t have to be a pandemic—but something else is going to happen and we have to continue to be ready for that thing.
Rob Reilly is the global creative chairman of McCann Worldgroup, which has 17,000 employees and develops campaigns for Microsoft, MasterCard, General Motors, and L’Oreal. The company was behind State Street’s famous Fearless Girl sculpture on Wall Street.
A lot of [the early pandemic-related ads] unfairly got ridiculed. There was someone who made a video of all the work sounding the same. [But] I think consumers at that time desperately needed to feel that brands were there and were empathetic and understood what they were going through. That work was really important, and I’m proud that we did [some of] that work. If someone wants to make fun of it, go for it, but at the time, I think it was very important for consumers who don’t have a lot of confidence in governments, whether it’s in this country or other countries, to see that brands were there and healthy, and were going to try to help.
All the concepting, all the work internally, all the presenting to clients, it’s all done on Microsoft Teams. We’re so used to it now. We’ve gotten the rhythm of it. You’d be surprised how we’ve done some pitches, where the clients literally have their cameras off and you’re presenting to a blank screen. It’s really hard.
Our brand partners are so great and giving us a lot of their time and energy, and you need that back and forth. We need this—I need to see you and you need to see me. In some ways, it’s become better where we’ve been able to have that interaction. Where I don’t think it’s better is in the agency concepting work. As our CEO, Harris Diamond, says, we are an apprenticeship business, and people and work and ideas flourish when you’re just sitting there listening sometimes.
Rob Reilly, global creative chairman of McCann Worldgroup
You’d be surprised how we’ve done some pitches.”
The other place where we’ve been highly challenged is in production. We’ve pulled off some amazing pieces of work and continue to, but not being there with the director and being able to discuss the nuances of a performance is a challenge. You’ve got a team that’s sometimes waking up at 2 a.m. for a production that might be happening in Europe or Australia.
We just shot a piece of work for Verizon, where we shot all around the country. We got great performances, but when you’re actually getting into the details of directing (“We’ll play that a little smaller,” or “Can you have them play that a little bit bigger?”), those conversations you have with the director, they just are not happening as much when the director is in one room and you’re not there.
More from Fast Company’s Shape of Tomorrow series:
- Is advertising really dead? Here’s how the leaders of Droga5, TBWA, Wieden+Kennedy, and more are inching forward.
- The retail Armageddon may have finally arrived. Here’s what top executives at Nike, Athleta, and more think it will take for stores and brands to make it through.
- Insiders at Burning Man, Broadway, Meow Wolf, and more describe how the live events industry will emerge onto a new stage.
- Top execs at the NBA, Major League Soccer, and more describe a touchless, waitless, and possibly even more connected and diverse future of sports.
- 4 experts on why performance reviews might be a thing of the past
- Watch out Amazon: Walmart could be the comeback story of the COVID-19 era. Here’s how brand perception is changing.
- How the leaders of Barry’s, Orangetheory, Peloton, and more are bringing fitness classes into people’s homes and rethinking the studio experience entirely.
- NHL commissioner Gary Bettman shares lessons from the bubble.