D2 offers lessons in creativity for the energy and industrials sector

More than 300 delegates drawn from a wide range of professional backgrounds, including business, Government, the creative industries and the tech sector converged on The Barbican in London for Hill+Knowlton Strategies’ flagship D2 conference on Tuesday.

Sir Martin Sorrell and Richard Millar at D2

More than 300 delegates drawn from a wide range of professional backgrounds, including business, Government, the creative industries and the tech sector converged on The Barbican in London for Hill+Knowlton Strategies’ flagship D2 conference on Tuesday. The annual event, which this year focused on the theme of ‘creativity’, featured talks from the likes of WPP founder and CEO Sir Martin Sorrell, Director of Brand Strategy at BuzzFeed David Pugh-Jones and Google’s Global Agency Business Leader Phil Jones. Naturally, the star studded line-up meant D2 was a go-to event for the movers and shakers from the worlds of advertising and marketing, reputation and brand management, public relations and digital communications. Indeed, with the speakers boasting years of experience in their respective fields and enough collective brain power to keep the lights of a small city on, we at the Energy and Industrials team made sure to get in on the action. Never ones to miss a trick or the opportunity to pick up a few top tips, we sat in on the morning session and listened intently as the speakers offered up their advice on how to nurture creativity and put it at the heart of an innovative and dynamic business strategy.

First up was H+K’s very own Richard Millar, CEO and Global Chair of Creative Strategies. Richard said creativity played a fundamental role in business because every great company was originally founded on a great idea. The most successful and sustainable businesses, he added, were not just built on any old idea, but a purpose-driven one. In an environment where “companies are under the highest scrutiny to demonstrate that their ideas give back to society” the purpose element, he said, is crucial to commercial success and must be communicated. For energy companies this is especially true as they have a powerful story to tell about what exactly it is they are trying to achieve. Beyond simply keeping the lights on, the factory lines moving and our car’s wheels turning, the energy industry is engaged in an epic, inter-generational endeavour to reduce pollution, protect the natural environment, preserve biodiversity, decarbonise our economies and ultimately save the planet we inhabit. The mission the energy sector is undoubtedly on to create that greener, healthier future and safeguard human civilisation from the existential threat posed by climate change is a compelling narrative and one that speaks to consumers. When thinking about crafting an advertising and marketing campaign, what better message to get across than the one that your company has a strong environmental purpose and is committed to investing heavily in tackling global warming.

After making his opening remarks Richard proceeded to introduce and welcome onto the stage the big boss himself – Sir Martin Sorrell, founder and CEO of WPP. The buzz of anticipation from the audience as Sir Martin made his entrance was palpable - electrifying even - and he didn’t disappoint. In fact, it was evident from the wisdom and insight he brought to the debate just why he has enjoyed such a long and distinguished career at the head of WPP. In typically combative style, he opted to depart from received wisdom and instead insist that the big issue was not creativity per se but how you adapt it to a changing technological landscape. While it was important to recognise creativity, he argued the key was to harness it to generate content that could be delivered on the latest platforms, in the newest media and down the most cutting-edge digital channels. He said technology, data and content had changed the nature of the media industry and that the traditional, established media outlets, whom he referred to as ‘legacy players’, had failed to grasp the consequences of that and were subsequently losing out to digitally-savvy start-ups. From an energy and industrials perspective, Sir Martin’s comments underline the value of an integrated communications strategy to our clients and the importance of utilising multiple platforms to engage with different audiences.

Following on from Sir Martin was always going to be a difficult task, but the next speaker Alex Jenkins, the Editor of Contagious – a research platform, consultancy group and quarterly magazine - certainly rose to the challenge with a rousing call for businesses, large and small, to cast off their inhibitions and embrace creativity. In a fascinating presentation, Jenkins illuminated our innate aversion to creativity, citing research from Cornell University that showed humans have a deep-rooted psychological bias against it. The uncertainty associated with defying the status quo and breaking with the norm militates against creativity, Jenkins said, and this impulse to err on the side of caution and pursue the tried and tested formulas must be suppressed. He argued that those businesses most likely to succeed in the new digital milieu were those who were prepared to run with big, bold ideas and engage in creative risk-taking. Creativity is risky and most businesses are run to minimise risk, he added, but when clients prioritise efficiency over creativity and focus exclusively on the bottom line agencies cannot invest in the new services, technology and talent they require to deliver effective campaigns.

Jenkins, who was certainly wooing attendees with his staunch support for a more creative approach, also had a warning for companies. Industry’s common response so far to digital disruption and electronic upheaval, he said, had typically not been to fight or flee but to freeze, like a rabbit in the headlights. If a business is to survive and remain competitive it must be flexible and be able to move with the times. Agility allows creativity to flourish and businesses to stay ahead of the curve, Jenkins asserted, but failure to adapt and evolve in line with technological trends can result in extinction. There is a lesson here for the heavyweights of energy and industry. Either you resist change and struggle on, buffeted by digital headwinds and wrong-footed by tech-savvy consumers, or you view developments in the technological sphere as an opportunity to get creative and reach out to new audiences with smart, focused and engaging content.

H+K Admin

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