Anxiety. Despair. Paralysis. Rapid and dramatic change can be dizzying and debilitating. But it need not be. If we prepare ourselves appropriately, and approached pragmatically, change can be empowering and transformative. Here’s how to thrive in a changing environment.
Change is inexorable. Just when we think we have a handle on things and begin to coast, it sneaks up on you and overturns the table. The only certainty for those working in our industry in that we will face continuous disruption and upheaval. This is because of three key reasons.
The first is competition. Advertising and marketing are among the most competitive industries anywhere. The marketplace for ideas and influence has low barriers to entry and provides vast opportunities to those that can differentiate and deliver on the promises they make. This level of competition creates an incredible pace of change simply in order to survive.
The second is technology. The size and demand of the market makes this a technology adjacent industry. Ad-tech is integral to the work we do, and the remarkable amount of money being invested in technical innovation in this space means that the rate of change will only accelerate.
The third is that the marketing space does not exist in a bubble, but is a direct reflection of the wider economy. Any major economic or political shocks directly impact our industry. Economic downturns are often accompanied by reduction in budgets and shifting to tried and tested direct response tactics.
Change can happen quickly and dramatically, which is why it can be so debilitating. We saw this in the shift to digital a few years ago, and we are about to experience this again with the emergence of artificial intelligence and deeper automation of our industry. But change can represent opportunity. It gives those previously shut out an opening to excel. It shakes up the status quo, pulling down ossified structures and out of date ideas. It allows those that are smart and bold and nimble a chance to dramatically change the way we do business. Without change there is no progress.
So how do you prepare yourself for change? I believe that there are four principles to adhere to in order to not only survive change, but to thrive in it.
The first principle is to understand who you are. What I mean by this is to determine at your core what you believe in and what these beliefs represent. This isn’t about being rigid and ideological, but rather about standing for something. Our industry is noisy and overwhelming, and the only way to cut through that noise and be noticed is to associate yourself with and promote an idea, a concept, a framework that is bigger than your career ambitions. In order to do so, you need not only absolute conviction in that idea, you also need to be authentic about it. This core belief is unwavering but applicable regardless of a changing environment.
The second principle is to stay goal oriented. In other words, be strategic about your work. Change will most rapidly impact the individual tactics and actions. By staying focused on the outcome, you are able to guide your team towards that and allow for rapid tactical changes. These changes can be quite radical. For example, a significant economic downturn can mean a swift shift towards direct response tactics and away from investments and activities that deliver longer term value. As the strategist, you can advise to make this shift while providing the context to help people understand that this is a course correction necessary to deliver the short-term financing to be able to drive the long-term outcome. By framing it up in this way through staying goal oriented, you are able to move with the speed necessary to thrive in a changing environment.
The third principle is to keep learning. This means learning new platforms and techniques, as well as understanding what the best people in the industry are doing. But this is more that learning through reading or watching videos. This means learning through direct experience. Undertake a passion project such as a blog, a podcast or a website and use that project to learn new skills. This passion project will work out if you apply the first principle, which is to understand who you are. After all, a passion project needs passion. Use this as an opportunity to broaden your skill sets. This will not only make you think more strategically, it will prepare you for the eventual automation of your role. Any role that is narrow in scope, repetitive in nature and can only be executed by a relatively small number of well paid specialists is ripe for automation.
Which brings us to our fourth principle, which is to drive the change. Since change is inevitable, it is best to be a change agent, to drive and shape it rather than be swept up and carried along by it. By doing so, you will be mentally prepared to best take advantage of the opportunities that appear as a result of this change. A technique for becoming the change agent is to always be on the lookout for ways to make yourself redundant. If you are able to identify technologies and techniques that can make parts of your role redundant, then it gives you the opportunity to apply yourself to new and emerging areas. This mindset allows you to shape the changing environment to your agenda.
Change is scary. But it need not be. By understanding who you are, staying goal oriented, continuously learning and being the agent of change, you have an opportunity to thrive.
Next week on octopus, we will continue to explore the role of the digital strategist. Please be sure to comment below. I’d love to hear from you. Please subscribe for alerts about new episodes and content. Thank you for listening to octopus. I’m Nasser Sahlool.