This is my rallying cry for independent agencies to fight for their place in client plans during the Covid-19 crisis. Like you, I’ve heard about or experienced projects being pulled and retainers being slashed by clients who undoubtedly have a raft of larger, incumbent network suppliers in the wings. I wonder if they realise how detrimental those cuts might be?
These agencies, like ours, were often brought in for their ability to challenge, complement or just unnerve their larger, more traditional counterparts. Lauded as exactly what the brand needs as an antidote to the major machines that cannot always deliver on a quick-turnaround, challenging brief.
However, when the chips are down (which, you might have noticed, they certainly are), these agencies are often the first to have the rug pulled from under them. If independent agencies are not supported now, will they still exist in the future?
Along came a crisis
I write this completely appreciating we're in a situation that nobody planned for. Budgets will be cut. Projects will change. Needs are changing (almost daily) and there will be fallout. I also appreciate that network agencies can provide all that brands need right now, possibly even having the advantage of more heavyweight strategists who can help to quickly decide the next move. So cut the project-based, easier-to-negotiate-with independent, right?
One thing. The "boutique" agency, loved so much pre-Covid-19, likely doesn’t have the scale to weather the storm in the way the networks do.
Where were you when I needed you?
So what happens next? Soon there will be rousing cries to drive growth. Network "restructures" will hit the headlines – that's just the nature of the beast. Brands will begin to run pitches again. A brave new world requires some brave new thinking. Something challenging, a fresh perspective. Will the nimble, energetic indie agency you want still be there?
Try to level the playing field
This is not a dig at the big agencies; we all have our place and we're lucky to work alongside some of the best. As an independent agency owner, especially if you’re one of the smaller ones, now is not the time to lay down and accept your losses. Fight for that last project or at least the chance to pitch for the work on the table.
The problems these agencies solved before Covid-19 haven’t gone away, and if we don’t look after the challengers now, they might not be there for that challenging brief in the future.
Marcus Foley is founder of Tommy