Well, a new year is upon us, for better or worse. What will happen, nobody knows for sure. I came upon a recent article that provides some insight as to what may occur. These predictions come from a variety of sources, all tied into the world of creativity in some form or fashion.
I concur with the author of this article when he indicates that the beginning of this new year doesn’t feel so exciting or filled with promise. We’ve had three especially tough years, dominated by the pandemic, collapsing supply chains, a war in Europe, an energy crisis, political chaos, and recession. What fun!
Tom May of the UK publication Creative Boom has gathered the best predictions for what will happen to the creative industry in 2023 from some leading voices. While this is UK focused, it no doubt has resonance with US counterparts. This may be considered a lengthy read but well worth it.
1. The economy will contract
There’s no way of sugar-coating it: we are in for hard economic times. Jesse Reed, co-founder of Order is among those predicting that 2023 will see a continuing contraction in marketing spend globally, as spending power is sucked out of the economy. And unfortunately, that means that creatives will have to work even harder to secure business. But it’s not all bad news, he believes.
“Smarter brands don’t see marketing spend as discretionary and will know that in a downturn, their creative marketing can help them to take up a bigger spot in the shop window,” says Jesse. “So in many ways, it’s a positive opportunity for creatives to maximize the impact of their work in grabbing a bigger market share for their clients’ brands.”
And it’s not like there isn’t room for improvement. “The last few years have been characterized by brands throwing spend at digital advertising, which has become less effective every year as platforms become saturated, customers wise up or simply struggle to differentiate,” says Jesse. “Good creatives with an empathic understanding of their audience and a talent for taking ideas where their client’s competitors fear to tread should have no fear of 2023. They’ll be in high demand.”
Above all, then, it’s about being flexible and ready to react to a fast-changing world: not just now, but for the foreseeable future. “2022 will be defined as the year everyone realized 2020 wasn’t a blip,” says Jesse. “We’re now in the epoch of the perma-crisis. For brands and the creative industries that serve them, it’s highlighted the importance of continuously being agile in calibrating tone and messaging in their creative campaigns and advertising. Brands need to understand what’s prominent in their customers’ minds and what’s leading their decision-making – something that is in constant flux at the moment.”
2. Prompt invoicing will prove crucial
While there may be opportunities in a spiraling economy, that doesn’t mean there won’t be multiple dangers lurking. And Geoff Bretherick, creative director at Fablr, offers a cautionary tale from the last 12 months.
“2022 was a year of witnessing major shifts within our clients’ industries,” he says. “A lot of ups, but a few downs. Everyone’s been reshaping from the pandemic, and from what we’ve seen, taking more risks with bigger opportunities. In theory… great! That said, we had an unfortunate experience with a couple of partners that started as major contracts, and then suddenly, the organization lost their CEO, CMO, and over 50% of staff. Where does this leave graphic designers? Not in a great spot!”
The lesson Fablr has learned is the importance of keeping your output in sync with invoices. “In one case, we had let three months of invoicing go unpaid because we thought there was mutual trust in our partnership,” Geoff explains. “Indeed, maybe it began as so. But when C-suite personnel start dropping, their ‘word’ means very little. To that end, we still highly recommend, if you don’t already, billing at a consistent monthly rate, as opposed to the percentage of work done to date. Because right now, ‘We’re good for it’ means peanuts.”
3. There’ll be a tight focus on costs
John Ramskill, executive creative director at BrandOpus, echoes many agency leaders in thinking that the bottom line will be all-important in 2023, both for studios and the clients they serve.
“Increased costs have resulted in our clients wanting more for less – even more so than previous years,” he points out. “This has meant that we are getting better at focusing our thinking sooner and aligning our teams so as not to waste time and money.
“Fast and fluid lines of communication have been made easier by being back in the studio and having quick conversations on the fly, rather than having to schedule calls over teams. Being more efficient AND effective allows us to meet the needs of our clients while still delivering the high quality of work that BrandOpus has always produced.”
Jo Barnard, founder and creative director at industrial design consultancy Morrama, has also been feeling the strain. “The brief feeling of relief seeing the back of Covid at the beginning of the year was short-lived,” she recalls. “2022 has been another challenging year with cuts in creative spending as businesses look hesitantly towards an unpredictable 2023.
“This pressure can quickly translate into exhaustion and burn-out as we fight to keep the pipeline of work flowing and hit our own growth targets,” she continues. “So in 2023, we will instead be seeing creatives focus on growth in other ways: working on internal projects, deepening their education and building a culture of support and well-being both within their teams and their network.”
4. Retaining talent will be a real challenge
On that last point, studio heads must strike a careful balance: motivating creatives to do more and better without driving them away. Because as Abb-d Taiyo, co-founder of design and impact agency Driftime, says: “The great resignation is real! It has become increasingly harder to find great talent, let alone keep them fulfilled in the team and company dynamic.
“In the UK, a fifth of workers are expected to leave their roles according to a study by accountancy firm PwC,” he adds. “Although there are many reasons, two of the primary ones are purpose and balance. When we look to invest in our people, it’s going beyond the obvious of ‘increased pay’ and starting an open conversation with your team on what they want.”
For Driftime, this investment has been actioned in the form of complete autonomy, four-day work weeks, unlimited paid holidays, well-being perks, and incentives for each employee towards the cost of living crisis.
5. Employees will get more power
Is one way to retain talent giving it more power and influence within the agency? Rachel Cook, managing director at Thompson, believes so. “This year, tired of everyone agreeing with each other, we disbanded our non-executive board, binned off our leadership forum, and introduced an employee board,” she says. “The aim was to introduce a healthy challenge, diversify the voices in the room, and give the whole team a chance to decide how we do things. And it’s been a roller coaster, with learnings at every turn.
“2022 taught me if you ask for honesty, you’ll get it, and you need to be ready for that,” she continues. “The first meeting was about employee benefits, and the team turned up with a ten-page printed, stapled document of feedback, asking for loads more holiday, flexible working and heaps of other great ideas. I admit I wasn’t quite ready for it, but the feedback was great, and I’m so glad they took it seriously. We needed to hear it.”
Rachel has also learned that it pays to act fast. “We’ve stayed true to our promise to action something from every Employee Board within six weeks of the meeting; within a couple of weeks, we rolled out an extra three days of holiday per year. The positive repercussions weren’t just because of the free days off, but because it helped build the trust and confidence of the team that we weren’t just smiling and nodding, but actually acting.
“Finally, I’ve learned that the benefits of doing good stuff are bigger than you might imagine. The Employee Board told us that they thought the forum would be good for them to get insight into how business works, give them confidence, look good on their CV, and be a great recruitment message, too. And I love hearing the team telling potential recruits or clients about the employee board: they took a small idea I had in the shower and made it much more awesome.”
6. The creative profession will redefine itself
Typically, in a recession, big companies see design and other creative services as an easy cost to cut, to help balance their budgets. So Max Ottignon, co-founder of Ragged Edge, believes the industry must counter this by reframing itself. “We need to change the perception of creativity from a luxury to a necessity,” he argues.
“In 2022, we’ve all had to get pretty good at thriving in adversity,” he continues. “2023 doesn’t look like it’s going to offer much respite, so the onus is on us all to demonstrate that creativity can give businesses a vital edge when times are tough. It’s time to prove how valuable our skills are. That starts with asking the right questions in the first place. It means digging deep into the underlying business challenges and genuinely solving those issues in ways that feel tangible and devoid of marketing bullshit.”
Max believes this is in our power to do so, as long as we strike the right attitude. “This is a time for clarity, rigor and a healthy dose of pragmatism,” he says. “But it’s also a time when creativity can be the difference between success and failure. And if we can prove we’re irreplaceable when times are tight, just imagine the possibilities when things pick up.”
All that, of course, is easy to say, difficult to do. But Kirsty Minns, executive creative director at Mother Design, offers some advice on a personal level. “We entered 2022 with such uncertainty after the pandemic and have since navigated even more global challenges, from economic unrest to the climate crisis,” she explains. “And a lesson I used this year is to adopt a beginner’s mind.
“A client of mine was obsessed with this idea called shoshin, which originates from Japanese Zen Buddhism,” she explains. “It refers to the idea that the more you know about a subject, the more likely you are to close your mind to further learning. My interpretation of this was to challenge how things were done before, embrace unorthodox ideas and test new ways of working. New working models in the office were tested, new methods of coming up with ideas were embraced, and new ways of inspiring the team were implemented.”