by Jason Harrison. My gosh, 2019 has been brutal! I thought 2018 was a stinker, then 2019 came around and started klapping boets around like it was in a Fourways nightclub at 2am.
Important canaries in the coal mine
South Africans are pretty good at dealing with change (just look at what we’ve absorbed into our collective consciousness over the last 10 years) but we’ve always made a plan and hustled, no matter the circumstances. In the midst of all of this, advertising agencies are one of the important canaries in the coal mine of any economy.
As consumer confidence and disposable income have shrunk, people have simply stopped spending. CEOs, desperate to make the quarterly profits, look around in their organisations and cut the variable costs — marketing is at the top of that pile. Agency CEOs get the call the very next day. Twenty more agency people jump onto the new-business hamster wheel to close the gap and everyone in the industry starts shouting “we need to do more with less”.
It. Is. Relentless.
And 2020 will not be any different, unless our economy gets a massive boost of confidence, investment and jobs [don’t forget electricity — ed-at-large] where the average South African can start paying down their debt obligations and start opening their purses at the till point again. I was discussing this very point with someone the other day, lamenting how relentless and stressful everything has been and the response was, “But what’s your purpose?”
“Yarrrra, boet, hold my beer; things are about to get heavy.”
I know brands and people have fixated on articulating some version of a purpose, which is great. Purpose isn’t wrong and, if you’ve defined yours, you’re definitely winning at life. Keep going. I’m just not sure it’s a useful question to be asking all the time in a work environment; after all, Joseph Campbell was quoted as saying, “If the path before you is clear, you’re probably on someone else’s.”
I mean, if I had to ask you, “What is the true purpose of your life?”, you and some of the 6.5bn people who exist on this very planet today would look at me in a highly perplexed way and say, “I actually have no bloody idea, but I did once spend two weeks thinking about which jeans to buy.” And that’s OK; it’s a pursuit that has perplexed humanity for as long as we’ve been around. “Why am I here? What am I here to do? How will I know when I have done it?” Every religion, every great civilization, every philosopher has wrestled with it.
Purpose vs perspective
While we’re working it all out, perhaps it would be more useful at the end of this particularly trying year to focus less on the heaviness of purpose and more on the lightness of perspective.
I love this definition of perspective: “a particular attitude towards or way of regarding something; a point of view”. Perspective is a powerful tool, because it may be applied by anyone on earth. You don’t need a degree; you don’t need to be able to write; you don’t need to be deeply enlightened.
So, without this turning into a #ImStaying extravaganza or a motivational speaker’s view on changing your perspective with all the “get into nature/eat healthy/exercise/have more fun/focus on yourself/the power is within you” mantras, I thought I would outline three points of view as we head off into the holidays for a period of rest and reflection.
It’s ok to be frustrated
Being a brilliant suit is tough. You’re always in-between immovable forces. You’re always on. You deal with problems every single second. You have to make it happen. You never get enough thanks. So, it’s natural to get frustrated or angry or feel, “FML, is this it?”
Here’s the perspective: You’re an indispensable cog in making an agency truly brilliant. The way you think, the way you solve, the way you “join the dots”, the way you sell, the way you build relationships are what makes an agency.
A truism of any agency is that we don’t get paid for having ideas; we get paid for making them. That’s where the magic happens. Never forget your magic.
Throw away the magnifying glass
Playing with a magnifying glass as a kid, you always got to see everything in exquisite macro detail. It was fascinating: everything became so big and bright and high definition. It’s no doubt been the same for you at work: everything has seemed bigger than it is. Especially deadlines! Your lens has been so close to the subject that you’ve forgotten this isn’t the real world.
Here’s the perspective: Step back from it all and you will see you’ve achieved far more than you ever could have imagined. You’ve created tangible things of intangible value. These beautiful and fragile things are called brands. And you’ve helped build some big, bright and truly-high definition ones. They will live on long after anything that kept you awake at 3am. Be proud.
Take the time
For something that’s been precisely the same for billions of years, time is the one thing that can seem impossibly long or impossibly short. depending on your perspective in an agency. It sometimes feels as if we’re living in dog years (and, er, working like ones… who’s a good boy, then?). The pace is relentless in the rush to get it out on time, to make it better, faster and cheaper.
Here’s the perspective: Time is the most-powerful tool to actually create perspective. So, take the time to think back to all you’ve achieved with all the amazing people you work with. Cement those happy times deep into your memory banks because, when all’s said and done, those memories will be what you actually remember and laugh about the most in your career. So have a laugh. You deserve it.
PS I’ll see you at Fourways at 12 o’clock sharp on 31 December for a quick game of Boet Fighter. I’ll be the one wrestling 2020 into a nice, tight, submissive headlock.
Jason Harrison started as a 23-year-old account executive at Ogilvy & Mather before moving to London five years later to run three agency teams in three different European countries. He joined his old mates again in 2011 as one of the founding partners of the M&C Saatchi Group at 33. He believes that creating beautifully simple solutions for an increasingly complex world will, in fact, save the world. His MarkLives column, “The Suit” is about inspiring and helping up-and-coming suits to be better at their craft. He is no longer on Twitter.