Don’t get me wrong, I love online meetings. The ability to connect with people in different time zones or far flung continents is incredible - and it’s great to sign off for the day without having to sit on a packed train.

But last month, I was reminded about the power of seeing people in person. Real conversations. Rapport. Proper hand shakes! The sound of collective laughter rippling through rows of people in a busy room. It can’t be beaten.

Along with Harriet Kingaby, I’m the Co-Founder of the Conscious Advertising Network and on 16 November we hosted our annual Conscious Live Thinking Event - our biggest yet. We’re a small organisation so in-person events are a huge opportunity for us to connect with our members. In a year of turmoil – including being accused of “overrunning ad firms with cancel culture” by the Telegraph and “destroying society” on Nigel Farage’s GB News show (yes, both those things really happened) – there’s nothing like gathering with 160 of the most brilliant minds in your industry to listen to other inspiring leaders with a collective goal of putting the (advertising) world to rights. 

I can’t go over every talk in detail, but kicking off the day with Baroness Beeban Kidron OBE luring everyone in by regaling us with tales of her film industry escapades, before launching into a passionate plea on the importance of the Online Safety Act was a true highlight.

She was followed by Marty Davies and Stephanie Matthews from Outvertising and Creative Equals respectively, who spoke eloquently about how the advertising industry can stand its ground amidst the rise of transphobia.

Alexandra Pardal then took to the stand to talk about the need for comprehensive regulation for platforms and putting pressure on our political leaders ahead of two billion people going to the polls in 2024. Next up, Claire Gleeson-Landry chaired a panel with Céline Craipeau, Elisabeth Rochford, Jo Parker and Kate Levine to discuss how the advertising industry can help the world to meet the UN’s SDG goals and then the brilliant Nicola Kemp from CreativeBrief launched into hosting the live Conscious Thinking Podcast on the potential of AI, with guests Maninder Paul, Jules Kendrick and Dino Myers-Lamptey. The episode is on its way, look out for updates on MAD//Insight.

Later on in the day, we broke off into groups to discuss each of our manifestos. I was covering sustainability and spent the first fifteen minutes talking to people and furiously making notes on a board about what people thought were the biggest challenges facing our industry. At one point, I remember looking round and just thinking “How the f**k have we managed to get all these C-suite people from big agencies, advertisers, members of the House of Lord, activists and NGOs in the same space to talk candidly about what needs to be done?” I couldn’t believe it. The sense of it being a community moving towards one purpose was really palpable. 

We all have good intentions when we create things, including companies and organisations, but they have to be backed up by purpose. There is no better way to drill into this then by assembling your members in the same room and thrashing things out. We were founded in order to provide some sense of leadership around who we can and can’t trust in the advertising world so that we can save customers and societies from being harmed. But leading is hard and it can be lonely, especially when you’re a small team. Even though we only have six staff, it's the collective responsibility of our team and our members to change the way that advertising inadvertently funds some of the worst things on the internet. I don’t take that responsibility lightly. I learnt a lot from listening to people at our event and quite frankly, my biggest takeaway was that I couldn’t do my job without them. 

Advertisers have incredible power in their hands to instigate real, tangible change by choosing to promote beneficial content over harmful content. But we can only do that if we know what the harmful content is - if we’re educating ourselves and others and learning from the very best people how to fix it.

We can’t change the advertising industry in a day or in three years (the length of time CAN has existed). But, step-by-step, we can try. And after our live event it felt like we’d taken several, bountiful leaps towards our goal. It felt like progress. I always say that I hope I’ll be out of a job next year because the work will be completed. I don’t know whether that’s true but I wanted to ask one thing which will help me and my team on that journey: if you work in advertising, please read our manifestos and if they speak to you, think about becoming a member of CAN and come to our next in-person meeting. It’s free to join, is run by a small but passionate group of people and it’s a hell of a lot of fun. 

Our motto is #TogetherWeCan and I’ve never felt it more strongly than I did on 16 November. Please help us realise our vision to make the industry a better place by joining today. I’ll see you soon.

For more information about CAN and how you can get involved go to their website