Agencies, consultants and entrepreneurs are on the cusp of a season of opportunity that the world has not seen in a long time. That was the message marketing expert Drew McLellan delivered to more than 225 marketing agency leaders at the Build A Better Agency Summit in May in Chicago.
“Historians, business leaders, and our own experience would suggest that we’re entering into an era like the Great Renaissance,” says McLellan. “The question is: what part will we play? Are we the leaders who will get challenged and replaced or are we the innovators that will create new business models and drive innovation and creativity?”
The choice is a stark one of great opportunity and great risk.
“We’re at the beginning of another renaissance,” said McLellan. “After every major world event—usually a bad one, like the bubonic plague or World War II—there was a rebirth. A time of incredible innovation, creativity, and an economic boon.”
McLellan has worked in advertising for more than 25 years and started his own agency, McLellan Marketing Group in 1995, after a five-year stint at Y&R. He also owns and runs the summit’s presenter, Agency Management Institute (AMI), which is a consultancy for small to midsized agencies that has been helping agency owners grow since the early 1990s.
McLellan told the crowd: “See if this sounds familiar. People are put in a circumstance both out of their control and far beyond what they could have possibly imagined. Everything changes rapidly and with little warning. In each of the events that led to a Renaissance, our very existence was threated. We faced our own mortality. We lost loved ones.”
Though the plague was as grim as it sounds, there was a silver lining. According to McLellan, the plague helped create the conditions necessary for arguably the greatest post-pandemic recovery of all time—the Great Renaissance.
“Priorities changed and new business models emerged,” says McLellan. “Necessity inspired a whole new level of innovation and creativity.”
He noted the Renaissance became known for its art, music, and architecture. The period is commonly associated with Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, his majestic statue of David, Gutenberg’s printing press and Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.
“But the Renaissance also laid the foundation for the very fabric of our modern society: capitalism,” said McLellan. “As feudalism died along with the plague, individual wealth took its place. Merchants and commerce, banking, property investments, and advances in science propelled people forward and our corporate roots began to grow.”
This was a moment in time when they had to reinvent. They had to try new things. They had to do what had never been done before. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
The crisis was the catalyst for dramatic change, creativity, and the birth of many new and lasting innovations.
“Following World War II, we also experienced a renaissance,” noted McLellan. Wages were 50% higher than they were five years prior and unemployment was almost completely eliminated. Shipyards cut the time it took to build a ship from 365 days to less than a week. The flu vaccine was invented, as was the first modern computer.
McLellan’s first book, 99.3 Random Acts of Marketing, was published in 2003. He is coauthor of the 2020 book, Sell with Authority.
His motto for the Build A Better Agency Summit is: “We grow faster and learn better when we learn together.”