How do we move forward in 2021?: column

Carat Canada CEO Alex Panousis predicts how agencies will shift from "getting it done" to getting back to thriving.

By Alex Panousis

I hate predictions, but, as Scott Galloway says, I love the conversation that the prediction catalyzes.

And looking at the world around us, there are a few one could make right off the bat. TikTok will soon be as mainstream as Facebook. Brand management will be the new big battlefield. The word “legacy media” will die off. If it isn’t measurable and audited, media agencies won’t buy it.

But after a year like no other, the only prediction I really want to make is that 2021 will help us move past 2020. Here is what I think will happen at agencies around the world – at least, the ones that will be successful in moving forward:

Are you ready to play “Never have I ever” with your team?

The agency world got an A for “get it done” in 2020, but now we need to review how to build culture when Zoom stands in the way.

People who work at agencies are built differently. Collaboration and social connection are important to our work culture. Today, the experience of work has changed, and how we bring some of the fun and joy back to work will be important. Culture is about belonging and having fun, and even though it is really hard to do in virtual space, it is really important to crack.

So how do you do that? We tried the cheesy “together mode” on Microsoft teams, and now that our training wheels are off, we will be looking for ways to make virtual meetings and virtual work better.

Innovation in the tech space will integrate collaboration boards like Miro. We will use tech solutions like Trello, Basecamp and Slack to manage projects and keep us accountable. We will invest in more dynamic features to make virtual presentations more engaging and effective Рeven apps built around silly-seeming features like Mmhmm could have a big impact.

Also: don’t think you can skate through with free apps. All of this costs money, like the cell phones and VPN access that ended up being the MVP of 2020′s work from home tool kit. We talk about client digital transformation – but what about our own? We need to improve the CX of getting work done from home from clunky to seamless, and this is the year we will do it out of necessity.

The rise of contingency planning

Agency scenario planning has always been a mostly financial exercise. Now we will need to be more strategic about our contingency planning, looking not just at dollars and cents but also at risk and opportunity.

What is your contingency plan if 30% of your agency gets ill? What happens if a key employee has to take weeks or months off? How is mental health impacting the quality of the work you do?

Less real estate affords bigger training budgets that are critical to our next pivot of planning. We will use wellness spending accounts as contingency drivers, because keeping people healthy and happy mitigates risk.

This year we will elevate contingency planning (and realize we need to hire experts to help us).

A desire to do good

We spend one third of our lives at work, and the work we do needs to be meaningful. But when the world is less friendly, we want to find ways to make it better.

The desire to do good is impacting where people work, who they work for and the brands they want to work on. The best people get to decide how and where they work, so leaders will need to step up and give them opportunities to do good and do better.

People want meaning in their jobs and we will find ways to engage in purpose and good. “Good clients” and great brands to work on will be important allies here. Good bosses will be gold.

Saying no

This one is plain and simple: we don’t say no often enough, and it has created tunnels of challenge that impact our ability to do great work. In 2021, we will say no to unreasonable financial terms, bullies, unrealistic scopes and a lack of transparency.

Here’s to 2021. Stand up. Find new ways. Drive new growth. Give a damn.

Alex Panousis is CEO of Carat Canada and chair of Dentsu Media