While the trials at Nuremberg punished the perpetrators of the Nazi regime, the Marshall Plan crafted the resurrection of German productivity, leading to global leadership in manufacturing. Similarly, while the MeToo movement crushes the criminals in creative organisations, we now need a structured plan to nurture their core culture. Lest, the inevitable environment of mistrust and apprehension seriously affect professional output that is invaluable for not just this industry but the economy at large.
From a lengthy experience in advertising, I can vouch for certain unconventional operational nuances that lead to better solutions than assembly-line approaches. For starters, the process of brainstorming often yields better dividends when pursued in a liberating atmosphere, a pub or a park or even a normal open-air terrace. During my early years in the trade, a solitary drink consumed with colleagues at the Kwality Restaurant, near HTA, often hastened the big briefing or presentation idea. We know for sure that office management, in their sincere wisdom, encourage creative teams to operate off-site to gain the desired disruption. This also means that the world-beating outcome often emerges at a relatively unearthly hour, from a group of highly-charged women and men.
Equally importantly, a free-flowing conversation culture is an important ingredient for creativity, as customer insights are often derived from such unabashed interactions. Which, in turn, thrives on a level of informality that is unusual for manufacturing or financial organisations, still thriving on traditional power distances and protocols. In fact, advertising agencies depend deeply on this interactive chemistry, successful teamwork connected strongly to the shedding of cognitive inhibitions. Loosely connected to this truth is the culture of dressing and banter, well within norms of civility but not conventionally ‘corporatised’ as per prevailing norms of business. At its best, this easy bonding leads to the forging of meaningful lifelong relationships, professionally and as unadulterated friendship.
The MeToo scandals threaten to ruin this fundamental cultural fabric, due to the third-rate behaviour of certain industry leaders, considering themselves to be untouchable demi-gods. For starters, the spontaneity in interactions will be affected, men watching every word and move lest they be misinterpreted. Ladies as well, will be on a short fuse of tolerance, looking for every evidence of prospective offenders. HR and management teams will resonate with excusable but often-exaggerated sensitivity, imposing strictures to retain the reputation of the organisations. Actions as above will certainly thwart the bad men from mischief but in the process, prevent the good men and talented women from forging the intuitive partnerships that lead to astounding creativity.
So, just like the Marshall Plan of 1945, the advertising industry must converge to recreate a common cultural platform that is productive and sustainable, clearly eliminating evil. The first act must be to draft a universal code of conduct, a professional self-declaration like the Hippocrates Oath, leading to licenses for creative professionals. Licences which can be renewed or blocked depending on the operating track record in ethical and behaviour terms, necessary for the senior-most to the junior-most, vetted by a professional audit firm and thus elevating this beyond individual agency management. We need to look no farther than the DGCA and issuance of commercial pilot licences as a fine example of such public-private collaboration to ensure the sanctity of a critical talent pool.
The second act, however literal it may sound, will be to compulsorily create an open-office architecture. Cabins will be demolished, and private meeting areas will have to be pure-glass, to ensure that there is no scope for behind-the-scenes shenanigans. The third act is to do with certain operational procedures, in terms of staffing and normal conduct of business. All operating teams at any level must consist of men and women, from the boardroom to the account team, compulsorily without exception. This will bust the boy’s club culture permanently and sow the seeds for regaining the free-flowing spontaneity. Companies must invest heavily in training to inculcate new-age creative brainstorming techniques, currently done at a purely intuitive and conventional level. This will also include offsite tie-ups like Starbucks or pubs to facilitate interactions, while developing stimulating physical infrastructure at the workplace. A strong recommendation would be move agency offices to co-working spaces like WeWork, a larger transparent environment leading to greater stimulation and security.
Once the offenders are handed their due sentences, our focus must shift to the future, to build a new culture that is designed to inspire and never abuse. This must be largely co-created, the decisive inputs of policy merging seamlessly with the genuine actions of individuals. The ideas above are illustrative and not exhaustive, but in the direction that industry must sincerely pursue. MeToo can well turn out to be an opportunity in disguise, to destroy the elements of evil and rebuild on a foundation of good.
(Shivaji Dasgupta is the Founder of INEXGRO Brand Advisory and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org)
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