The Next Normal

What the advertising industry may look like in a COVID-19 world.

How will the advertising industry look in a COVID-19 world? Chief Creative Officer John Maxham weighs in with his predictions for what comes next.

This article was first published in

There’s a lot of talk about the “new normal.” It mostly refers to ways we’ve adapted our style of working to meet a new reality. But a lot of the changes happening around us will have implications long after we physically return to work.

The new normal will stop being new and will simply be the way business gets done moving forward. It will become what’s next, for ourselves and our clients. Our company motto, “From Now to Next” provided me with a useful lens for viewing the current situation. With it in mind, I offer the following five predictions about what may be next for our industry.

Companies and brands will realize the value of staying visible to their customer base.

I’m going to start with some optimism. If you prefer pessimism, this might not be the article for you. Economics 101 dictates that periods of growth and decline are driven by confidence. More confidence begets more spending, which creates more growth, which leads to more confidence, repeat.

The lack of confidence that comes with instability often causes companies to look for places to cut. And what could seem like more of a luxury in a time of crisis than marketing? Except that it’s not. Because another effect of instability is that market share goes up for grabs. Longstanding loyalties are tested as customers look for new solutions and better offers.

Cutting marketing budgets can seem tempting in terms of near-term cost savings. But if companies feel like they’re on a bus heading downhill, cutting marketing spend is akin to stepping on the accelerator. I’ve already seen some encouraging signs from clients that realize this.

Many know they have to grit their teeth, hold onto their seats, and plan for a future beyond the current crisis. It’s up to agencies and marketers to help them see the road ahead and show the value of staying on everyone’s radar. The alternative is for brands to disappear, figuratively, and perhaps literally.

When the virus threat subsides, there won’t be a massive shift to working at home just because we’ve found out how easy and efficient it is.

“Zoom Bombing” and technical hiccups notwithstanding, working via video conference has proven surprisingly easy and quite natural in many situations. Hence the popular trope at the moment that there’s going to be a big migration towards telecommuting even after Coronavirus is no longer a factor. Since we’ve discovered Zoom, who needs all of this in-person stuff? Well, we all do. The human animal is built for in-person interactions, and there’s simply no substitute for them.

Regardless of resolution and sound quality, there are so many nuances of live feedback and collaboration that simply cannot be replaced over the internet. But Zoom has given us something beneficial. It’s another tool in our working toolbox that offers more options for connecting. It can open doors to more opportunities, particularly in the new business arena. Since no one has to get on a plane or put together large in-person presentations, it’s lowered the barrier to getting a foot in the door.

Agencies that have deep in-house production capabilities have an advantage right now that will only continue after we all return to work.

Back in March, when it started dawning on us that Covid-19 could cause major and long-term disruptions in workflow, one challenge seemed particularly tricky– production. In short, how would it be possible to continue to “make stuff” to meet client needs with everyone locked down?

We immediately looked at ongoing projects to see what could be shifted from on-location shoots involving travel and casting to using solutions like animation and existing footage. But we also had a huge advantage in the form of a fully developed in-house production arm, called The Hive. This enabled us to keep the production machinery moving without missing a beat.

It also led to some very innovative solutions for clients – shooting, special effects, sound, editing- all while maintaining the safety of social distancing and working from home. Some agencies that outsource much of their production are really struggling at the moment, because of the complications of trying to cobble together production partnerships in a restricted environment.

And as much as people rightly look forward to the lifting of restrictions, a growing backlog of production jobs will make the return to normal feel more like “take a number and get in line.” Agencies with robust production chops will sidestep that backlog because they won’t have to get in line to begin with.

We’re learning a powerful lesson in the difference between brands offering genuine support and idle chatter– one which will likely stay with us for a long time.

There’s been an onslaught of brand messaging around the Coronavirus. And while it’s hard to disagree with the sentiment of wanting to say something positive, a lot of it feels very similar and, in the worst cases, downright opportunistic. It’s all been thrown into focus now that our recreational actions are limited and we can see all of these messages.

If ever companies were to employ the phrase “actions speak louder than words” it would be now. And actions that come from a place that’s true, feel most authentic and provide the most genuine help. For me, the high water mark came with Dyson’s announcement that they were going to produce ventilators.

A company that specializes in moving air made the bold decision to help move air to where it is needed most – people’s lungs. In the future, I believe that our current circumstances will set a higher bar for relevance and usefulness to customers as clients continuously seek to move beyond mere ads.

Partnership now will be remembered later.

Despite our romantic notions, agencies and production houses are businesses. It’s hard not to look at our current circumstances and think about the impact to our bottom line. But rather than propose projects and messaging just to keep things moving, we owe it to our clients to be good partners on a deeper level. Sometimes that means just listening or being patient while they figure things out.

It also means helping them plan for the future and striving to be an extension of their own capabilities. It’s always helpful to remember that our fates and our clients’ fates are closely tied together. Our best chance for future success is simply to understand why our clients chose us in the first place – to provide creative solutions in an ever-changing and unpredictable world.

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Paul Brienza
Paul Brienza
Chief Growth Officer
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