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Amplify Marketing Festival 2022 Review

By Heather Robertson @ MadeBrave

Much like the return of in-person meetings and after-work drinks, Amplify 2022 was a hotly anticipated Marketing Society event after being impacted by the pandemic for the last two years (that’s the only time I'm going to mention the p-word which, refreshingly, wasn’t a key focus for the day). The city of Edinburgh acts as an ideal location for passionate marketeers and never fails to deliver in terms of exciting hustle and bustle. Although this year, as we walked through a city strewn with rubbish during a council labour strike, it also gave us an opportunity to reflect on the true impact our work in packaging and sustainability really has.

The conference kicked off with a session on Diversity in Marketing, led by the incredible Leila Siddiq of IPA who opened with an ‘intersectional introduction’, highlighting all the multi-faceted ways in which we live and demonstrating the importance of removing single-story labels. By sheer coincidence, I’d happened to listen to Meghan Markle’s ‘Archetypes’ podcast, which deals with the same issue, on the train from Glasgow. I found Leila’s opening speech set the tone perfectly for what those of us in DEI groups want to achieve – it's about holding up the mirror to people who have never experienced inequality in order to improve things for those who have. More succinctly put by Leila, ‘It’s about making people feel good.’

Onwards to the Ogilvy lecture, delivered by the fantastically energetic and charismatic Sarah Warby, CCO of Nando’s. Sarah’s lecture was compelling, funny and hugely relatable for this 30-something year old Comms Planner who feels like she’s got a lot to prove – and I’m sure many others felt the same. In fact, the second Sarah flashed up a picture of Avril Lavigne on the screen with the words ‘Why d’ya have to go and make things so complicated?’ we all collectively exhaled with relief – we were in good company. The struggle is real, and Sarah understood how one mighty tool can help us tackle our imposter syndrome: simplification.

Unlike the brilliant manual labour force striking on the streets of Edinburgh, in marketing we’re brain workers. Thinkers. That means we’re at risk of complicating for complicating’s sake, aka The Complexity Bias. Combine this with the paradox of choice that agencies and clients face, tight deadlines and the high talent turnover of the Great Resignation, it’s no wonder that we find ourselves confused and overwhelmed. As Sarah put it, we become ‘tricksy Hobbitses.’  We waste time by adding on extra layers of rationale and conversation to prove we’re worth our salaries. And, in the true spirit of simplification, here are some key tips from the Ogilvy lecture:

  • When trying to communicate something, getting unnecessary information out of the way is the fastest way to the best explanation (aka the principle of Occam’s Razor, for those of you that love a Google).
  • Things that look good on paper don’t necessarily work in the real world. We have theories and models coming left, right and centre - but we also must value our own experience and listen to our gut.
  • Jargon creates walls between people. Cut it out! Ban jargon from your meetings (/lives) to make sure everyone feels included.
  • ‘Explain it to me like I’m my mum’ - Sarah’s version of Michael Scott’s ‘Explain it to me like I'm 5,’ which is genuinely something I ask my colleagues at MadeBrave at least a couple of times a week. It was reassuring to hear that a powerhouse like Sarah uses this phrase as a sense-check for simplicity.
  • It’s easy for team meetings to go round in circles, no matter how well-meaning the agenda might be. Sarah’s team has a ‘rumble word’ - if a topic is touched upon multiple times, they reserve the right to use it. Essentially: ‘We’ve covered this, let’s move on!’

Finally, what I think is my favourite point: those of us fortunate enough to move into leadership roles will find ourselves under pressure to Inspire with a capital I. This will only achieve so much.

We should also look to inspire (with a little i) as a daily practise. That means making people feel happy. Respected. Seen. Known. Understood. Supported by the fact that happy brains are 31% more productive than neutral brains. This piece of advice – ‘be a decent person’ - is solid and something that sits at the very core of our ethos at MadeBrave.

Now to the panel session: Celebrating Craft, facilitated by Eilidh McDonald of Frame, where we heard rich discussions on the ingredients of craft – time, trust, patience and commitment.  More notably, the challenge of balancing increasing expectations with decreasing budgets mean that these ingredients are gradually being eroded away. The continuous squeezing of craft means we live in an age where we need to diversify our skillset – exemplified perfectly by the fact that the entire panel were introduced as having ‘and’ in their job titles (which we learned from Eilidh is referred to as ‘slashing’).

There were some fantastic and colourful conversations around the challenges facing those who have honed their craft, which include: difficulties of briefing creatives on multiple aspect ratios to suit a diverse suite of channels; new mediums are not the silver bullet, nor are they the problem; and little jobs are always harder than the big jobs in terms of people, budget and expectations. It was incredibly interesting to witness a group of creatives discussing industry issues at a conference primarily aimed at marketeers.  It was an invaluable opportunity to get an insight from those who we rub shoulders with every day but rarely get the chance to delve into the nooks and crannies of their daily challenges.

Of course, any good discussion panel will come with a little controversy. There were certainly elements of this, not only felt by myself but also some delegates I caught up with afterwards. We want to take our client on the journey with us. It's their creation as well. However, there is a typical source of pain that I’m sure those of us on the agency side are familiar with. Clients often get what they want because people who are passionate about their craft want to make good work, so they go above and beyond. A little unfortunate given what we know about the budget-expectation balance.

This makes me sink deeper into a consideration I’ve had since I entered the industry. Going the extra mile is a noble thing, but nobility doesn’t pay the bills. Aren’t we at risk of cannibalising ourselves in the name of ‘doing what’s right’? As creatives and marketeers, it’s important to lean into partnership, collaboration, and a mutual understanding that we’ve got commercial goals to achieve on both client and agency sides. In a similar vein, there were some generational disparities within the panel discussion which I found compelling. A jarring ‘I don’t like to see juniors leaving before the person they work for’ (yep, this is a word-for-word quote) was met with a cool sip of ‘Don’t make people go through assault courses just because you had to’.

I could go on. It would be easy to dwell on the elements of our industry that we’d wish weren’t true (and that we’ve all ranted about on Zoom calls). I think the talented journalist and editor Arusa Qureshi summed it up perfectly - ‘It is getting better, but only because people like us won’t put up with it.’

The final session of the conference was the agency vs. client challenge – now a staple element in its 8th year at the Amplify conference. The teams were brilliantly engaging, funny, and knowledgeable. Despite personally not knowing any of them, I felt an immediate affinity with those on stage. I couldn’t take notes on the case studies fast enough! The winning team – agency-side, after a 3-year drought – enjoyed a well-deserved celebratory prosecco at the afterparty in George Square Gardens The afterparty itself was a great opportunity for everyone to network and catch up over drinks and pizza, followed by comedy that had us laughing well into the night.

It was a day for learning, reflection, celebration and joy at all being in the same room again.

Side (but important) note: between Sarah, Leila, Eilidh and The Marketing Society CEO, Sophie Devonshire, I was totally blown away and inspired by the incredible force of talented women that I was sharing a room with. What a time to be alive!  Hats off to the incredible line-up and a huge well done to delegates that were brave enough to ask the difficult questions. We’re already looking forward to next year!

Heather Robertson, Comms Planner at MadeBrave

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