It is with a New Year optimism that I return to work after a four-week holiday to India, whose galloping economy is obviously shrinking but nevertheless continues to exude confidence and self-assurance. Not that the fall in consumer demand or the shortage of business credit isn’t hampering businesses or leading to almost unprecedented heavy retail discounting, but there just seemed to be little pessimism around. Instead the downturn in the Indian economy appeared to be developing into a silver lining, with an almost frenzied promotion of the Indian spirit of entrepreneurship – be it by the media or otherwise.
Feeling quite fortunate to have been away from the doom and gloom of the Western economy, I was dreading the return to crisis and the predicted end of the world as we know it. I have come back the week that Woolies finally pulled down its shutters and when another British household name, Waterford Wedgwood, announced its farewell.
But despite these casualties and more, including MFI, I have come back to a hopeful 2009. Trading conditions continue to be difficult and redundancies loom large across the board. Yet the corporate talk is quite upbeat about its prospects, and now the marketing community says it is viewing recession as a time that will favour the brave.
Of course, it is natural that thoughts turn to good tidings at this time of year. But without losing sight of the huge amounts of pain that 2009 will bring, marketers and communications agencies are seeing the recession as a challenge to change things. The chief executive of Publicis Groupe, Maurice Levy, has also been reported to say this week that crisis situations allow one to do better and “break with routine”.
Levy’s take on the downturn that “nothing is more boring than business than usual” will be music to the ears of all those desperately seeking that sliver of silver lining through the murky dark clouds. Even if that only means that much-derided businesses, such as the finance sector, are looking to reinvent themselves (including Barclays) so that they can respond quickly to consumer needs and make the customer the ultimate king, there can be a positive outcome to this doom and gloom story. As Abbott Mead Vickers. BBDO chairman Cilla Snowball (who has been awarded an OBE this year) puts it: “Things will get better. And when they do, we’ll emerge stronger.”
The year 2009 might not turn into a happily ever after story, but if the big corporate world displays the maturity to restructure into the exciting new businesses that it needs to, then for years to come this new year could well be remembered as the year that we all lived dangerously – and those who did, survived. Here’s to a prosperous 2009.