'We've never had it so good!' said British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan in his election year.
Well, he actually said ‘let us be frank about it: most of our people never had it so good’ during a speech to the Conservative party. He was celebrating the success of Britain’s post-war economy, whilst at the same time urging wage restraint and warning against inflation. Nobody really listened to the second part about restraint because that was pretty boring and didn’t suit the mood of a country hurtling into the relative hedonism of the swinging sixties.
Cut to the early 2000’s and Tony Blair could just as easily have quoted it again. He may have said something similar, but this is not a political blog and I’m no Nick Robinson, so I’m not going to get into it. I’m also largely relying on Wikipedia as my source, and we all know where that can lead.
My point really is that not that long ago, the whole country (indeed, much of the Western world) was riding the ‘free credit’ wave and living life as if there was no tomorrow. We thought, wrongly as it turns out, that we had never had it so good and, moreover, that things were going to stay that way. I know, I know...old news. Don’t worry, I’m not going to attempt a diatribe about the economy or the banking crisis either. There have been grave consequences of the financial crisis for many of us and, to a greater or lesser extent, its effects have changed all our lives.
The changes happened pretty much overnight. Personally and professionally, in very simple terms, budgets shrank and things became more expensive. My industry, marketing, was no exception. There was a period of a couple of years when the business world was in a state of shock and no one had a clue what the future might hold. Now that we’re in something like the fifth year of this new reality though, I think that a glimmer of a silver lining might be visible.
Bear with me, but I’m going to put forward the notion that the added challenge to working life that leaner budgets have brought has, in my opinion, been both positive and revelatory in terms of its effects on the work itself.
‘Return on Investment’ is so high on everyone’s priority list it is now recognised at all levels by its initials only. Marketing has to fight, hard, just like every area of business for every penny. To get the go-ahead to run a campaign on any scale often requires sign-off from a broad range of stakeholders who, quite rightly, interrogate the outputs estimated at every stage with the ultimate aim that nothing short of brilliance will see the light of day.
As a marketer, I honestly believe this is the most fruitful, productive and meaningful time to be involved in our trade.
Austerity has proved to be an amazingly effective catalyst for creative thinking; just as in our personal lives we are all having to pull together to make budgets go further. In the marketing industry, on the whole, everyone is tenaciously striving to create marketing solutions that resonate more profoundly than ever with their audience, no matter what the budget. Suppliers are working more collaboratively and more flexibly to ensure a project’s success. Traditional media has to fight with the emergence of social media and the digital revolution, which is forcing everyone to up their game.
Customer now truly is king. Because every conversation between brand and consumer is a two (or three, or four) way street, so marketing must be relevant and compelling to count. Generating a phenomenal ROI is the only way to render ourselves indispensable. As a result, it’s a fantastic time to work in a marketing agency and a brilliant time to be a client.
If we’ve never been so accountable, so creative, so true to ourselves or so fulfilled, in one sense at least - have we ever really had it so good?