Sheryl Marjoram on working as a collective

Sheryl Marjoram is chief executive at DDB Group Sydney.

Like many Aussies, I moved home when the borders reopened.

I’ve been away for more than two decades, and since returning, clients, colleagues, and friends have all drawn me into the same conversation. “Marketing is much more sophisticated in the UK and US, isn’t it?” “Australia is nowhere on diversity and inclusion, right?”

The temptation to assume Australia is lagging is understandable, but an unnecessary distraction and – in my opinion – simply untrue.

Covid, seismic technological advancements, failing education systems, cryptocurrencies, the great resignation, deep cultural turbulence, an economic crisis and inflation, supply chain pandemonium, war.

Every shift and catastrophe has affected every business and country, including Australia. And nobody is exactly winning, so nobody trusts anyone has “got this”. All around the world, our trust has been shaken.

Trust plays such a pervasive role in everything, yet its full importance is rarely acknowledged until it begins to break down as it has. We are seeing the impacts ripple far and wide, across money, religion, politics, social affairs, and professional and personal partnerships. Those ripples are behind fragile questions such as, “Are we any good Down Under?”

Alongside the challenges posed by these huge headwinds, there is also opportunity for those of us in creative industries. We are naturally curious people, dedicated to a life of learning new things and new ways. We spend all day imagining that things can be different, so we are primed and able to solve these social, commercial, and multidimensional problems.

But we can fall into the habit of limiting the problems we solve to the realm of marketing. We don’t have to do that. It’s why I jumped at the opportunity to run an advertising group, versus just an advertising agency. In a group, I have a diverse set of deep, creatively led expertise, poised and ready to play its role in putting us, our clients, and Australia back on the right side of history.

These big problems won’t care if they are solved in Australia or the US. Our geography will not be our impediment to turning up on the world stage; standing on the sidelines and a lack of ambition and collaboration will.

Australian marketers and agencies have ambitious growth mindsets and are clearly looking to crack big challenges with humanity and creativity. They’re looking for ways to unlock deep expertise, which is currently trapped in silos. They’re looking to connect experts, unite them with tricky, juicy problems, and solve them creatively and effectively to prove that marketing is a lever for growth.

To respond to this ambition, we must prioritise collaboration over competition. It’s kind of do or die on that front anyway. Everything is already open: cryptocurrencies, music ownership, file sharing, the metaverse … the list goes on and on and on.

Even the best lone genius cannot and will not stack up against today’s complex and interconnected problems. We must tackle them collectively.

That is also what people want now: to work as a collective. It’s the natural body language for the next generation of consumers, clients and agency teams alike. People are growing up as creators, not influencers. They’re taking cues from communities such as gaming. They’re steeped in what it means to be truly inclusive and can spot virtue signalling from a mile away.

We’re an industry that converts culture into creativity, and so it should feel natural for these cultural shifts to turn up in our business models. It is also commercially smart. If you’ve set yourself up with enough diverse expertise to be able make anything, then you’re ready to take on and solve multidisciplinary problems. I’m not talking about “integration” or “connected comms” as we know them here – those are table stakes. I’m talking about the steps beyond that: ensuring different people, with different agendas, and different specialisms, are working together towards the same goal.

That kind, and level, of collaboration naturally weaponises human capital for genuine growth for clients, agencies, and economies.

So, Australia has an equal playing field, with as much risk and opportunity as our friends around the world. Since getting back, I’ve been surrounded by so many deeply clever, sophisticated thinkers, all able to liberate that opportunity. I see no impediment to the talent or ambition in this market (and with so many Aussies killing it overseas, we know this for a fact).

Rather than doubting ourselves, let’s collaborate, solve some of this stuff together, and prove that this market is fierce enough for the next generation of talent to choose to stay.

As published in The Australian.