Cut the BS: Let’s just do great work

Three keys for outstanding agency efforts in 2021.

If 2020 taught me anything, it’s that anything, or most of it, that we relied on is no more. Industry norms have been shattered and reinvention is the name of the game.

Doing outstanding work now rests on the shoulders of those who can adapt quickly, plan strategically and maintain that hunger for what’s next.

Whereas ladders and ceilings once created the infrastructure in which brands seemingly thrived, brands and agencies looking to excel in 2021 and beyond are seeking new working models by breaking down the old ones, even if they don’t know it yet. Clients have tighter budgets, shorter timelines and less patience for layers of processes that come from working with agencies that aren’t built to be nimble.

Contrary to popular belief, there is no singular right answer to which ways of work will bring more success than others. In fact, the difference between your agency and another may be what compliments both. With that said, there are key takeaways that will remain true regardless of whether your business is big, small, old or new. 

Collaboration is key 

Competition for the sake of appearing competitive has grown stale. Many teams and professionals alike are pushing to break down barriers between businesses to work together to bring the best and brightest talent to the table on behalf of clients. 

Digging into this a little deeper, agencies that work as a jack of all trades and master of none is no longer a selling point; it’s foolish. From crisis PR, to social media direction, different experts are needed for different tasks. That’s one of the reasons why I stand by our network model; The Sway Effect assembled a global network of boutique agencies to bring a diverse mix of top-level talents to address client needs.

Team up: Agencies as extensions of client teams 

COVID-19 has lit a fire under the already highly scrutinized and pressurized agency world. Clients have been forced to rethink their communications programs at the speed of breaking news and shifting culture. Now more than ever, clients and agencies, while separate, should operate as one when executing on projects and plans. 

The more an agency operates as an extension of the client without the added bureaucracy, the better the work, and, assuming you’re a good match, the more indispensable you become. 

DEI at the center

Putting diversity, equity and inclusion at the center of work and agency purpose should be the industry’s No. 1 priority. There is no remaining patience or excuse for bad behavior -- there never was -- and the plethora of opportunities available to agencies that engage in DEI initiatives are endless. Let’s stop announcing what we are going to do, and just do it.

Studies show that the very best work comes from great, diverse teams that feel a sense of belonging and purpose about what they do. For agencies and brands alike, diversity and inclusivity should be key factors in deciding who moves up and who gets rewarded. Senior leaders should be assessed on whether they are hiring and empowering diverse talent and exhibiting inclusive behaviors.

Allyship should also be ingrained in the culture of an agency. Any employee should be allowed to call out bias and microaggressions and given the proper tools to do so. To this end, agencies should be wholeheartedly centered around boosting diversity, equity and inclusion in both skill and talent, supporting employees and valuing their creativity, which is more important than ever. 

Jennifer Risi is founder and president of The Sway Effect.

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