Agencies Need to Shine Brightly and Provide Real Value for Clients

by Jody Osman Upfront

Jody Osman, Managing Director at Upfront, explains how agencies can help their clients in these difficult times.

No company can be blamed for being nervous at a time like this. The COVID-19 pandemic is putting the squeeze on profits and business pipelines. Brands and agencies alike are anxious about their staff, shareholders, and overall ability to sustain business.

But there are strong reasons for keeping up profile, and brands are fast realising this. A global Kantar study of 35,000 people shows 92 per cent expect brands to keep advertising during this period – although they need to pay close attention to tone of voice and focus on values.

GSK Senior Media Director for EMEA Jerry Daykin is an advocate of maintaining brand profile in tough times and, while acknowledging the situation the world is in now is different from a recession, points out businesses which cut marketing significantly in the past downturn took five years to recover.

That means brands on the front foot will not “go dark.” They will be looking for help from their existing agencies, and researching which agencies can help with new channels and activations. With so many people looking online for entertainment or to buy essentials, many brands are having to put real thought into their online offering, whilst some are having to develop an offering from scratch. They’ll be open to fresh thinking and new ideas that can help them stand out.

We know agencies are seeing projects postponed or pulled and are under huge pressures but it’s vital to shine brightly as brands look for alternatives and plan for the future. Now is not the time dial down on new business efforts or PR activity that builds your profile. But it does mean thinking a little more strategically.

A lot of us will be feeling bruised and the next new business win may feel some way off. But significant new business usually takes time anyway. Holding your nerve is a big ask but it’s a good time to start laying those foundations as brands reassess their plans and strategies. There’s a great chance to build new relationships and strengthen existing ones.

Ways to help clients

Now is not the time to focus on the “sell.” Providing real value with expertise, insight, and guidance will build up your own “brand equity” with clients and prospects. They’ll remember who put their shoulder to the wheel when times were hard.

There are a multitude of ways agencies can help – here are just a few:

  • Brands are having to learn how to adapt and change quickly to new ways of working, and a new business context. Agencies do this all the time – agility is in the DNA, as is knowing how to build a strong workplace culture. Any advice on setting up processes or on team cohesion will be welcome.
  • Offer to help with internal communications. Brand PR teams are swamped with media queries and co-ordinating external messaging. They’ll be glad if someone can lend a hand with executing internal messaging.
  • Provide as much relevant market intelligence and useful data to brands as you can. Agencies are often at the coalface of consumer insight with intuitive antennae. Share what you know.
  • Agencies are known for being adaptable, and this is also a time to think where you can broaden your services and look for new opportunities.

Business across the board will come back eventually, but those sectors that the pandemic has suddenly spurred into growth should be on the new business radar. Among these I’d list toys and games – Lego is upping its digital advertising spend – and broader entertainment such as computer games, B2B tech, home office services, and house decorating and DIY products.

The pandemic is not analogous to a recession, but the last two official UK downturns were a great opportunity for the entrepreneurially-minded in agency-land, and saw an explosion of new independents formed by people who saw opportunity. The fresh blood prompted established agencies to up their game and made clients excited about marketing once again. I’m sure we’ll see the same spirit emerge over the next few weeks and, once we’re through the current scenario, there’ll be a similar business renaissance.