The hopes and fears of these past years…

A view from Paul Bainsfair

IPA Director General Paul Bainsfair looks back at the economic and political instability of the past few years and asks what are we actually afraid of, and where are there signs of hope?

We’re born with only two fears.

The fear of falling and the fear of loud noises.

You may have learnt this if you have recently become a parent. If not, ask any midwife.

The point I’m making is that these two fears - of falling and loud noises - are inbuilt. Innate.  Which must mean, therefore, that all other fears are learned. And as complex human beings, we acquire our own unique set that vary in intensity. With some rational and some arguably less so.

There are irrational fears; the fear of spiders, or of rats, then there’s the fear of heights or small spaces or come to think of it, anything I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here can throw at the celebs. And then there are the existential fears. The all-encompassing, sense of doom-type fears.

Fears come to the fore

If you’re running any kind of business, one such big-picture fear that has come to the fore over the past couple of years is fear of the unknown.

This is a term closely related to other terms such as uncertainty, unfamiliarity and abnormality. In fearing the unknown, our human need to feel in control, to know what’s coming next and consequently, to feel secure and to plan accordingly is woefully under met. More than this, Ema Tanovic, a psychologist with the Boston Consulting Group, who has researched the consequences of uncertainty at Yale University, has also found that uncertainty can intensify how threatening a situation feels.

Knowing this, is it therefore any wonder that I and so many of us are feeling this way given the macro political, economic, and societal conditions we’ve endured over the past couple of years? We have, in short, been living in a world of uncertainty. We’ve experienced a world-stopping, unprecedented-in-our-lifetime, pandemic; we’ve endured five different prime ministers in the past decade – three of which in 2022 alone; we’ve lost our much revered stalwart, our Head of State and Queen; we are witnessing and experiencing the ongoing fallout from Russia’s war with Ukraine; inflation is at a 41-year-high and we are in the grips of a cost of living crisis; lest we forget a recession is beginning to set in.

But enough of this. I shall stop for fear that you’ll stop reading this before I provide some hope…

Turning things around

I must admit, I’ve lost count of the times I’ve gone on record to call for certainty and stability this year – mainly in the IPA’s response to the ever-changing Government line-up or consultation flip-flopping where I’ve been heard to say we can’t make solid long-term plans on shifting sands.

As I take stock at this end of another tumultuous year, though, I realise that while certainty is the ideal, and something we will continue to hope for, it appears an increasingly difficult ask. As some clever clogs once said, “Uncertainty is the only certainty there is.” With this in mind, and as many of you are managing to do, we must therefore accept and adapt to the reality we are faced with in all its inconsistent glory. Fearing something doesn’t change it. Instead we must face and fight our fears. But how?

Facing our fears

Fear of the unknown has been defined by researchers as a fear caused by a perceived lack of information. So along with a determined attitude, let’s first understand what information we do have. And let’s break down what our fear of the unknown is into more manageable, understandable and tangible chunks. What are we actually afraid of? And then, what further information do we need to face these fears?

Having spoken to many of you over the past couple of years, I can identify some of the understandable fears that some of you have in terms of the health and wealth of your businesses that may collectively feed into this overwhelming, overarching fear of the unknown. And here is also where I hope the IPA can give you hope, in the form of ammunition for you to be best equipped for any sharp bend in the road, to help you plan and to alleviate a sense of threat.

Fears and hope

For fears of not knowing what lies ahead financially, we have information and a glimmer of longer-term hope (UK marketers’ confidence levels, spend intentions and ad spend forecast data) in the form of our Bellwether Reports. For fears about cuts to marketing budgets and how to make the case to clients to continue to invest in advertising, I highly recommend a watch of Les Binet’s latest webinar. For fears about keeping your agency pricing competitive, we have a range of publications of which Partnering for Growth is our recent comprehensive offering. For fears about the climate crisis and the part our business can play in addressing it, there is the ever-rich source of advice and resources from the AdNetZero initiative, as well as our IPA Media Climate Charter. For fear of losing touch with consumers during the pandemic, we have numerous Insight reports revealing consumer sentiment towards the World Cup to Black Friday, to what consumers are looking to brands to do to help them through the cost of living crisis, and more. And we have TouchPoints for the most in-depth look at how consumers are spending their daily lives and how their media use fits into this, with interesting patterns emerging post pandemic. All of these and far, far more resources including our invaluable Effectiveness Culture Roadmap and our diversity and inclusivity initiatives, are available on our website, with many of these curated on our new Cost of Living Hub.

So, my wish is for you to use this wealth of knowledge to conquer your fears and equip yourself to roll with the punches and lean into the crazy ride that this wonderful - and sometimes not so wonderful - life is taking our industry on. All that’s left to do then is to channel those famous words uttered by President Roosevelt, "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself."

Apart from falling. And loud noises.

The opinions expressed here are those of the author and were submitted in accordance with the IPA terms and conditions regarding the uploading and contribution of content to the IPA newsletters, IPA website, or other IPA media, and should not be interpreted as representing the opinion of the IPA.

Last updated 01 May 2024