From survival of the fittest to soulmates…

And why ‘collaboration’ isn’t just a fad but the future.

As businesses, whether agency or client, product or service provider, we’re all competing for our share of the pie. Nothing has changed – it’s down to basics: survival of the fittest. If you’re not out there shouting your wares, shouting loudly enough then you don’t swim – you tread water, or worse still, drown. It’s not enough to merely go with the flow anymore.

Let’s conduct a simple experiment in turning back time. Not 10 years, not five years… how about back to the beginning of this year? To be specific, seven months…yes, when ‘it’ all came to pass. Yes, we all thought it could be bad, but seriously? It’s like some Tales of the Unexpected story and everyone’s scratching their heads wondering just how the hell it all came to pass.

We got wistful, we pulled together, we applied a let’s get through this, global ‘Blitz-spirit’ approach where a pandemic that continues to separate humanity ensured we creatively connected and, in some ways, made us closer to each other. We saw solidarity between individuals, across all industries across the globe reaching new levels…very positive and encouraging stuff. Back in the day, in our industry, we were all quick to show off awards and rubbing it in our peers faces – it was every man for himself. Oh, how it’s all changed. Now it’s all about being ‘collaborative’.

Whilst it’s certainly not a new concept – after all, it’s what some of the greatest agencies on the planet claim as their secret sauce; indeed, many of the recent big winners at Cannes have relied on partnerships with experts outside of our industry to create truly original work. But now, all of a sudden, a new landscape is forcing new trains of thought; everyone wants to know the recipe.

But what makes a great relationship great and a great collaboration successful? The best collaborations don’t just have complementary skillsets, they also bring out the best in each other. And while it’s a basic human instinct wanting to compete with each other, it’s now much more time to find your soulmate(s). After all, no one can dance the Tango alone…

Forget competitiveness for a moment – a key part of the success of your relationship is the mutual respect, transparency and a clearly non-competitive spirit. Be, and stay open to, ways that things can be developed and improved, rather than merely defending your own position as individuals; this is a team effort after all.

This is likely to be the future model for many agencies as they look to streamline and adapt in a shifting world. They will retain strong core disciplines and define the shape of the business, creating their culture, recruiting the best talent, driving new business, overseeing the creative and managing clients and dictating strategy.

On the outside supporting this, there’s a network of collaborators. Whether this might be an inner circle, an extension to the in-house team, or tapping into a strong network of freelance and consultancy resources available on-demand to create a collective, it allows a more agile approach with an in-tune response to client requests as well as efficient and effective turnarounds.

Linking these two circles together is a network of orchestrators and producers: people who can craft internal teams, who understand creativity and the creative process, and those who can build the agency’s network of collaborators, managing and nurturing the relationships to drive the best collective value for all.

Is this new world thinking? No, but it is likely to be the model for many businesses, us included. For Progress, this has been an approach we’ve applied since we first came to be, way back in 2009. And even more important as we count down 2020 seeking an end to this seemingly endless uncertainty. We’ve lost some good people as a result of this, but we’re fortunate that those relationships we’ve invested time, effort and money into are reaping dividends as we seek to navigate our way through this.