At the end of 2011, a lot of people asked me for predictions on what 2012 will bring. I tend to shy away from questions like that, since I’m not an economist nor do I have a crystal ball. However, I do believe 2012 will be another interesting year and I expect many factors to shape it, including: the U.S. presidential election, the geopolitical landscape in the Middle East, the West’s debt crisis, stock market volatility, growth from the BRIC, the rise of the next 11 nations and consumer confidence – to name a few.
At the agency level, however, I can speak boldly. I believe that creativity and innovation must feature prominently in everything we do to serve our clients, and must co-exist with the ability to capture cost efficiencies. And I believe that we must focus on the following five pillars – and ensure that they are rooted in creativity and innovation – in order to maximize performance in 2012.
Globally integrated markets and consumer bases—brought into sharp focus by digital and mobile’s ability to provide access to worldwide communication platforms cheaply and instantly—have redefined the principle of diversity for all organizations. No one can afford to hold on to the misperception of diversity as something that has to do with quotas or staffing window dressing.
Diversity now resides at the core of success, particularly for brands and agencies. If the world is truly now flat, then the ability to think strategically and holistically, while understanding global behaviors and customs, is going to be critical. Organizations must transform their definition of diversity to mean inclusion—not only along race, religion and gender lines, but at all skill sets and levels of experience—to drive greater participation and wider perspective.
Make no mistake: The war for talent is still upon us. Even during periods of recession or slowing economies, good people are always going to be in high demand. But 2012 is going to be less about attracting talent and more about engaging talent. Over the past few years, many organizations capitalized on widespread economic turmoil and financial uncertainty by hiring talent at a lower cost, but then didn’t really know what to do with the people they had onboard.
Consequently, there a lot of extremely talented and qualified people who now feel disengaged. They don’t really know where they fit in their organization or how to contribute at the top of their skill sets. So they put their heads down and focus their efforts at keeping their jobs by maintaining a status quo, rather than engaging in the kind of innovative thinking and creative risk taking that will put them on the radar—and drive success. For organizations to move forward in 2012, they will need to find more effective ways to utilize and engage talent.
At this point, social media is clearly not a fad, a game or a distraction. It has changed the landscape of engagement immeasurably, it is here to stay, and it needs to be learned, embraced and—most importantly—leveraged effectively. Of course, the ever-intensifying discipline of analytics and the critical role of influencers will continue to be paramount. But as social media now inexorably intertwines itself into our daily lives, those concepts and roles will occur at a fundamentally more micro level.
The concept that everyone is a brand is not a new one—but social media has truly intensified the potential to leverage personal branding to drive influence in increasingly tighter and concentric social circles. Particularly for agencies, this presents unprecedented opportunity, but also significant challenges. Since significant influence will take place within ever-smaller networks, communications professionals must balance specific and appropriate insights without devising the strategic equivalents of angels dancing on the head of a pin. Understanding and improving ROI is not going away, so it will be critical to dovetail micro strategic understandings into larger efforts that can drive real business results in meaningful and substantial ways.
There is never a year where sound leadership is not important, but in 2012, strong leadership will be more critical than ever. As the concept of crisis moves from headlines to the new normal, leaders must now have an almost innate ability to guide talent through change, ambiguity and uncertainty—on a daily basis. Effective leadership is making sure that your staff has a clear understanding of where the organization is going and that they feel excited about their roles in helping the organization get there. At all levels, leaders are going to need to be more engaged in order to deliver the level of clarity needed to succeed—and to make sure that there is both accountability and recognition of efforts.
The past several years have been marked by a severe lack of leadership. There has been much talk and very little action. And while a lot of managers are going to have to take a hard look in the mirror in 2012, the upside of all this is that in many organizations, leaders have emerged from unexpected places. These leaders are the future of their organizations, and their efforts need to be recognized and encouraged. It is exactly these traits—the ability to step up and drive results, the understanding of how to track success and when to course correct, the initiative to assess opportunities and take measured risks—that will mean the difference between success and failure moving forward.
Managing cost structures and increasing operating efficiencies will always be an imperative—but most organizations have already done that by now and will continue to manage their structure. It is simply part of today’s normal business process. Moving into the New Year, attention must turn to growth, the key to which will be found in three specific areas.
The first is product differentiation—either through total innovation or improvement to existing services. The second is creativity, truly the lifeblood of success, which has been consistently deemphasized in the rush to reduce costs and increase efficiency. The third is exceptional client service and quality. Always incredibly important, the level of client service has not been dramatically improved upon in the past few years. Certainly tighter client budgets have played a role in this. But in 2012, it will be critical to strengthen trust—between clients and agencies, and between consumers and brands. That trust will be built on the principle of great service—internally and externally. Without it, growth will be difficult, if not impossible.
All organizations are looking forward to a year that rewards efforts with success, and exceptionally executed strategy with results. In 2012, I would not be surprised if the degree of success an organization enjoys is in direct proportion to how quickly and effectively it is able to incorporate these core principles at all levels.