Duke Group

Making meaning in the mess #coronavirusSA

by Wayne Naidoo (@WNaidoo)


When referring to “ourselves”, I’m talking about everyone involved in the business. All the key stakeholders within our communications ecosystem have, in some way, contributed to a general climate of greed, mistrust and backstabbing that’s resulted in the demise of what was once the industry that everyone wanted to be a part of. But perhaps covid-19 and its overwhelming impact on both a human and economic scale can help us get back to basics and correct this imbalance.

For far too long, we’ve all been pulling in different directions; we’ve all had our own agendas — be it a procurement agenda, meeting BEE targets, in-house politics — and the result is that we’ve all ended up working against each other. Sure, tough economic circumstances have had a role to play (when times are tough, it becomes a question of survival of the fittest), but what’s resulted is a frenzy of agencies throwing everything they have behind every single pitch they can — to the detriment of their staff, their budgets and their overall morale — and, very often, not winning any business or achieving anything in the process. In the wake, industry giants have closed their doors and morals, and ethics and values have been replaced with undercutting and soul-selling, all in the name of winning a pitch to placate large multinationals looking for their pound of flesh.

Coming out of this pandemic, where we’re likely to be faced with the greatest economic recession of our times, we’re going to have to strongly reconsider whether pitches are really a viable new business option. Will any agency be able to throw hundreds of thousands of rands at a pitch in good conscience? And will any of us even be able to afford it?

Moral and values

Just because we’re faced with trying circumstances doesn’t mean all gloves are off and the morals and values fly out the window. We’re about to face the toughest circumstances our industry has ever experienced; let’s not devalue our industry by our desperate need for business that leads to our “everyone is doing it” excuses for less-than-ethical behaviour.

It’s time for the elders and leaders of this industry to set the standard and kept things in check. It’s time to look past the micro-issues and focus on the bigger picture to find solutions that work for the entire sector. We need to step up, set aside our differences and pull together if we’re ever going to be able to build our industry back up again.

While we were all sitting in hard lockdown with loads of spare time on our hands, wouldn’t it have been great if we’d all spent some our time thinking of ways to regenerate and reinvigorate our industry when we come out of this storm? Or, now that we’re able to start functioning again, what about if we set up Zoom meetings with other agencies to see how they’re doing and see how we can help each other? Because I really do believe that’s what it’s going to take in all areas — open cards, open doors and all parties sitting down together to try and stop the blood loss.

Need to galvanise

There’s no doubt that covid-19’s already had a massive negative impact on our industry, but just maybe this pandemic could kill off the rot and give us all a healthy dose of humility and the opportunity to refocus on what truly matters. Because we’re all in this mess together and we all need to galvanise to pull our industry out. We work in one of the most-dynamic industries in the world. We’re blessed to be in the creative industry, “where life imitates art”, as so wonderfully articulated by Oscar Wilde. We play a massive role in oiling the cogs of our economy. We all need to look at workable ways of resurrecting our industry in a way that can help our clients and our economy grow.

My door is open to anyone who wants to sit down and thrash things out. Perhaps by making it a priority of the ACA, we can finally start to make meaning in the mess.