$2.5bn worth of new business called into question, intermediary survey finds

Survey reveals how brands and agencies are adapting to coronavirus outbreak.

New business: so far not hit as hard as global markets
New business: so far not hit as hard as global markets

Intermediaries are experiencing disruption to the reviews they are handling totalling £2.5bn, a survey by Campaign has found.

According to three respondents, one prospective major global review might not happen, another account review has been postponed and the sole intermediary to report a cancellation said it was for a modestly sized piece of business. All of this has a combined value of about $2.5bn.

Chemistry meetings have been hit, according to one respondent, who said that they had seen three postponed.

Campaign quizzed leaders at 11 intermediaries and gleaned a largely consistent picture of the new-business market, which due to Covid-19 has necessitated a reformatting of the traditional meeting model and a shift towards video-conferencing.

One intermediary said that "everything is moving ahead as normal", while another explained that the lead generation side has seen face-to-face meetings replaced with virtual or video meet-ups.

Even when clients and agencies do get together, there is "limited handshaking", one intermediary chief noted.

Tipping point

For one respondent, last Wednesday (11 March, when WHO declared that Covid-19 is a pandemic) "was a tipping point in the UK".

"Until then, we had seen little practical impact on ongoing pitches," they said. "However, yesterday we had a number of requests for work-in-progress and pitch meetings to be modified (four separate clients to date)."

That same intermediary is finding that those clients on the cusp of starting reviews are planning on going ahead, "with the caveat that timelines might need pushing back depending on corona spread or government guidelines changing".

The key takeout from Campaign's research and, something that may affect how pitches are conducted once Covid-19 becomes old news, is the extent to which meetings are being modified to both negotiate the increasingly complex logistics of meeting and to avoid physical contact. As one intermediary said: "Brands are in the phase of 'no external business are allowed in the building’."

Dispersed teams

Looking ahead, it’s far from clear what shape the new-business market is going to take in the coming months. The general consensus is that it will be adversely affected, with brands freezing budgets around certain disciplines. But some respondents have experienced more contact from chief marketers trying to address challenges around using "dispersed teams", while others expect it to "even out over time".

Against a backdrop of a panic-buying mob mentality, it may be a tall order to have level-headed expectations. But it’s crucial to keep feelings and expectations in check, respondents insisted.

"It’s timely that I’m reading Factfulness by Hans Rosling at the moment," said David Meikle, founder of The How to Buy a Gorilla Company. "It warns that our reactions to crises can be more dangerous, damaging or even fatal than the crises themselves. My clients all seem practical, sensible and philosophical about coronavirus, but none that I know of are significantly changing or cancelling plans."

It’s a point echoed by Angus Crowther, founding partner at The Alchemists, who stressed that agencies should avoid talking themselves into a panic. "This is the time for a positive stance," he said. "Onwards, it could make sense to consider how much non-essential spend goes on in clients and agencies, but the trouble is that behaviour will also affect the smaller businesses and the trickle slows to smaller suppliers."

For Duncan Wood, managing partner at Ingenuity, agencies and clients should ensure their communications tech is simple, effective and available to all. "Business will have to continue and those with the most flexible approach to communication will come out the other side ahead of the rest," he said.

In this regard, Stephanie Nattu, associate board director and business director at Creativebrief, reckoned the industry must realise more innovation and adaptation are needed: "But we’ve arguably never been better set up to deal with a situation like this in the business environment, both due to advances in technology and attitudes surrounding flexible working."

There are client-side benefits, too, to the industry’s hand being forced. Procurement consultant Tina Fegent pointed out that "clients are not flying".

"But I think it is good for the UK industry and we will look closer to home for solutions," she said. "We will start to use tech more for conferences, which is also a good thing for climate change. Clients are planning and thinking about how they will cope. MediaCom having a dry run of their disaster recovering on Friday and everyone working remotely is a really good call, and I hope that more agencies do that."

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