We packed our bags and set out for Nashville to meet up with hundreds of our marketing and advertising cohorts at the Digiday Agency Summit from March 1-3, 2017. In a world filled with constantly changing technology, dynamic digital growth and automated everything, it was refreshing to hear speakers focusing on something truly advanced: humans. We were inspired to hear from agencies like David & Goliath and 72ANDSUNNY as they discussed the ways we as marketers can connect and listen, and produce better work as a result.

Here are five of the key takeaways we brought back with us from the Summit.

1. Collaboration is Key

Sedef Onar, the Chief Talent Officer at 72ANDSUNNY, spoke about how collaboration is not just part of creative development, it also defines the way we work. Her three tips for getting the best out of others and encouraging collaboration were:

Lead with collaboration and adapting it as part of your work style, as well as your agency’s culture.

Define roles early on. To avoid unproductive meetings where decisions aren’t made and there is a lack of accountability for who is driving what, confirm who the “deciders” and “influencers” are and then stick to it.

Don’t be scared of conflict as it often makes the end product better. Debating is fine — even encouraged — but be respectful.

2. Rediscover a Real Connection

With a welcome reminder that, as marketers, we’re in the “people” business, both Phil Cowdell, President of GroupM, Mediacom North America, and George Swisher, the founder of LiiRN, used their time at the Summit to talk about connections. They emphasized how vital it is to find the human element and establish a real connection when working with each other – and especially with clients. In a fast-paced world where we’re juggling so many things at once, we’ve forgotten how to pick up the phone to just talk to each other, relying too much on email to communicate when we should really be connecting and collaborating.

3. Talent Drives the Team’s Success

“An agency’s only proprietary tool is its people ‒ its talent and culture,” said Marianne Malina, President of GSD&M in Austin, TX. GSD&M has taken that idea and run with it full-speed, in a drastic change from the traditional approach to defining teams. Their agency no longer assigns people based on departments and accounts. Instead, employees’ unique skills and interests are evaluated, and project teams are created based on which people are best equipped to handle the client’s particular business problem. Since initiating this unique approach to team assignments, revenue has grown 27% and GSD&M has won 83% of new business pitches.

4. Build Better Briefs

Adam Bowen from FCB Chicago spoke about the importance of briefs and suggested agencies develop not just creative briefs, but also business briefs to better serve clients. The creation of business briefs drives the agency team to better understand what’s going on in a client’s business, and helps drive a more holistic approach to finding a solution by recognizing that as agencies we’re helping with business problems — not just marketing problems.

5. Turn Obstacles into Opportunities

The Founder and Chairman of David & Goliath, David Angelo, was one of the final speakers of the Summit, and perhaps the most inspirational. Sharing poignant statements like, “Listen to your inner voice, and opportunities will rise“ and “Being brave is being yourself;” Angelo spoke from the heart, telling the story of how he turned his life around at a young age and listened to the inner voice that inspired him to start his own agency.

Our biggest takeaway from Angelo’s talk was his message of seeing beyond the challenge at hand, or, as he so eloquently put it: “look for the rainbow and not at the storm.”