Creativity Without Borders


Johannesburg, South Africa
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Johanna McDowell
Founder and Managing Director IAS Agency Selection

The American cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” I concur – but must add, “until Covid19”, writes Johanna McDowell, CEO of the Independent Agency Search & Selection Company (IAS) and SCOPEN partner.

The initial brushstrokes of Covid19 painted darkness around the globe, with a force we could neither see nor fight threatening untold misery. Now, almost two years down the line, we continue to count losses – but the resilience of the human spirit is showing up in small but bright patches across a number of industries. 

As intermediaries, we are looking at the changes that have come about because of the pandemic that affect our business. One of the most valuable, I believe, is the realisation among marketers and agencies that we are a truly borderless world.

Importantly, creativity is no longer constrained to regions and intermediaries are free to find the best creative solution from a far broader range of options than ever before. Not that technology hasn’t allowed remote working in the past, but the pandemic has forced more people to see its value and make choices that enable a combination of talent that really works for them.


Agility on a Smaller Carbon Footprint

Smaller, more agile agencies can set up business almost anywhere and still have access to clients. The other massive silver lining here is that while we are working together from thousands of kilometres apart, we are able to reduce our collective carbon footprints like never before.

Where travel around South Africa and even overseas was often required for the various stakeholders to trust that their brief would be understood and their requirements met, online communications in their various forms have shown same-room discussions can be carried out as effectively online, and with less cost to the planet and the company budget.


Quality Beats Price

Because intermediaries usually know all players and are also adept at understanding the value new players bring to a project, we’re being called on by marketers who ask for remote agencies whose work they have seen – online! The IAS, for example, has global connections of many years standing and keeps up with companies and trends. When a marketer says, “Let’s go global”, accessing those agencies is as easy as accessing those at home.

It has been suggested that some foreign companies look to countries like South Africa based on the strength of their currency against the Rand. We’ve found this not to be true. Every client seeks quality above all else. Anything less would be reputationally disastrous. If there is any cost-saving to be had at with the same level of quality and professionalism they demand, it’s a bonus, but not a pre-requisite.

Of course, the other bright light that has been enhanced by the pandemic forcing all of us to master online communications is the greater trust that marketers and agencies place on the knowledge and value of intermediaries.

We, like everyone else, are hoping the global vaccine rollouts continue apace, and more lives are saved as the days go by. In the meantime, we are all just grateful that the technology required for so many industries to keep doing business safely arrived before 2020, making creativity without borders a thing.