A Taste of Our Own Medicine

Headshot of Tom Moore, Head of Retail, VMLY&R COMMERCE UK

Embracing change to improve the workplace

As an industry we pride ourselves on challenging the status quo, confronting entrenched perspectives and provoking clients to embrace new ways of thinking and technology. 

Yet pre-pandemic we weren’t always walking our own talk. 

For the most part, our ways of working and process were analogue. Creative work was passed between departments in a baton exchange, awaiting return at fixed points.

What’s more, we had our own entrenched beliefs that creativity could flourish only with people in offices working together, with work reviewed in meeting rooms plastered with paper. 

The pandemic forced us to take our own medicine, ask ourselves provocative questions and embrace change at a rapid, sometimes, uncomfortable pace.

Some changes were planned and orchestrated but equally there were happy accidents, things we looked back to and thought “well that seems to be working out, let’s keep doing it”.

The way we work now is fundamentally different and all the better, in my opinion. We can move rapidly in real time, insights are captured live and applied in real time, helping clients accelerate speed to market.

Here are three key changes at VMLY&R COMMERCE UK, that will be sticking around for the future:

1. Open, transparent and real time working

Notable winners from the pandemic are collaboration tools and platforms. We adopted these not simply to stay connected but to drive greater openness and transparency. Unlike the analogue approach, this enables our creative leaders to see work in real time - sparking new thoughts, or course corrections. 

Miro, the online whiteboard, has been a crucial component in our journey to digitalize workflow process. Far more than an ideation tool, we use Miro through strategic and creative phases to house a wide range of output allowing the entire team to see the whole project at a glance, live. 

Benefits are many: creative teams drop in WIP, asking creative leaders for quick feedback - which has sped up the pace of work. Leadership stays closer to projects to see creative developing in real-time, minimizing major feedback further down the process and driving team efficiency with fewer review meetings. This single space makes it easy to step back to view the bigger narrative. And here’s an added bonus: it’s easily translated to shared presentation decks.

Clients are on board: perceiving positive sense of value as they see the work behind the work. They drop in, view, feedback live, all in one space.

Real time working has been a catalyst in the culture of openness: creative work can be seen by anyone, at any time. It’s enthusiastically embraced.

2. Data, automation and validation

With a digitized workflow, we’ve invested in tools that provide laser insight to inform strategic development, creative briefing, as well as work validation.

Proprietary testing tools sit in our new workflow, for example Concept Tester, a rapid digital panel testing tool for real consumer feedback on concepts within 24-48 hours. Creative teams have consumer validation of ideas during development rather than at completion. Meaning that we can present concepts with consumer endorsement at the first client showing –a huge reduction in time.

In tandem, our newly developed AI optimization tool reviews creative touchpoints through a contextual lens – understanding where touchpoints sit on the consumer journey and helping us strategically evolve. It recommends improvements to brand asset location, calls to action and much more, to optimize work with conversion in the moment.

3. People first, last and always

Unsurprisingly, the pandemic refreshed focus on our people – the need for autonomy and visibility of business at every level. We restructured the agency to a ‘team of teams’ model building talent and capability around client centric teams. Trust and community grew – and continues to grow, through full financial visibility and closer working bonds built within the teams.

And discovery carries on. In one ‘happy accident’ from remote working we found that creative teams, especially designers, were tapping into extra time to focus and developing work without distractions. As one designer candidly commented, there are less “back seat designers” at home!

We are now consciously spending more time to create the right space for teams – whether that’s uninterrupted time for crafting work, flexibility around working hours or time for new learning.

These are pure practical examples of how we’ve changed ways of working. How we’re rapidly responding to changing consumer behavior and accelerating time to market.

But probably our biggest change transcends all of this and will define how we continue to evolve and work in the future: how to embrace the ‘challenger mindset’ as much for ourselves as for our clients.

What if? Why can’t we? How do we? Are phrases we use across the agency when it comes managing the way we do work.  And we are thriving.

- Tom Moore is Head of Retail at VMLY&R COMMERCE UK

Originally published in Creative Brief's BITE