Close-Up: Live issue - How can agencies fight recession?

What ideas do graduates have when it comes to recession-proofing an agency?

As the widespread panic over the economy reaches fever pitch, agency heads are having to react fast to protect the future of their business. But rather than asking the usual suspects how they are shielding their agencies against economic turmoil, Campaign wanted to probe those who are aspiring to eventually fill their shoes, to see how they would help an agency through a financial downturn.

From the minutiae of cutting down on desk-based BlackBerry use and cab trips across town, to changing an agency's offering, the industry's graduate recruits came up with some innovative solutions.

Echoing the thoughts of many of adland's top dogs, the grads were focused on future-proofing an agency by providing clients with integrated and more cost-effective solutions. "In the current climate we can use the opportunity to showcase to our clients and prospective new clients how we offer great value for money," Michael Osbourn, an account manager at Bartle Bogle Hegarty, explains.

In order to convince increasingly cash-strapped clients that an agency truly is providing cost-efficient advertising, grads such as Alice Fraser, a junior planner at McCann Erickson, believe the measurability of a campaign's effectiveness will become even more crucial to proving an agency's worth.

But at the heart of this recession- proof diversified offering should be a creative spark, which these grads all agree will only come from investing in young talent.

While they are happy to concede cutbacks on house costs, the industry's youth feel investment in graduate recruitment should never be scrimped on. After all, if you're interested in future-proofing, you have to consider whose hands your agency will be in in years to come. As Emily Creek, an assistant producer at Dare, warns: "If you want the right talent to safeguard the future of your agency, then you can't afford not to make that investment."

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ACCOUNT MANAGER - Michael Osbourn, account manager, Bartle Bogle Hegarty

"Having a great understanding of your clients' business is always crucial for any agency, but when the economic landscape looks like it does at the moment, agencies that make this a priority will come off best.

"Understanding clients' changing priorities will offer us the opportunity to be open with them about what activity is creating value and what is not, therefore allowing us to be more creative in helping solve their problems.

"Call me a killjoy, but it goes without saying that everyone within the agency needs to keep a tight rein on house costs - take the Tube to meetings instead of a taxi, don't use your BlackBerry when sat next to your desk phone etc. Working at an agency with management who have weathered a couple of recessions in the past - and come through on the bright side - is also comforting.

"Most important of all, however, will be to maintain (what should always be) the guiding principle of an agency - keeping creativity at the forefront. When production budgets are shrinking, it will be the agencies that can keep the creative spark burning bright that will keep their profits healthy. Nurturing, trusting and encouraging talent across the board, from creative to production and account handling, is the only way to guarantee this - a workforce that thinks its collective neck is on the line will not get results."

ASSISTANT PRODUCER - Emily Creek, assistant producer, Dare

"Surviving a recession is partly about avoiding knee-jerk reactions. Just as agencies tout the example of Kellogg continuing to advertise during the Depression to dissuade their clients from curtailing adspend, agencies should continue to think about the long term.

"Investing in new talent safeguards the future and this is equally true in a recession as it is during times of consumer confidence.

"Cost is often cited as the reason many agencies don't offer any kind of graduate scheme, and agencies would argue they can't justify spending the same amount on graduate recruitment as other industries, particularly during a recession. However, this reflects a similar short-sightedness as their clients cutting advertising spend.

"The cost doesn't need to be that high. Aside from a handful of agencies, the industry is not talking in the right way to the best calibre of graduates. You don't even need to shout that loudly to be heard - a recession is the one time when a whisper can be just as effective.

"For the same reason consumers bought Kellogg over Post during the Depression, the most talented students are signing up to work for companies whose brand they encounter regularly. Agencies should take the advice they are giving their clients and resist the temptation to cut their own budget when it comes to investing in graduate recruitment."

GRADUATE CREATIVE - Rick Gayton, graduate creative, Fallon

"The client must take a leap of faith, protect their budgets and be brave with us. With fewer competitors advertising, an increase in spend would make each client more visible to the consumer, therefore increasing market share.

"It's the creatives' job to help relax and settle the consumer. Yes, it's vital to sell the product as a solution to these tough times, but a financial crisis doesn't mean we must rein in our creativity. In fact, we must increase it. Imagine if brands lived by the motto: 'He who dares wins.' Admittedly, that's a creative team's wet dream, and perhaps it's never going to happen. But still, the sentiment is right.

"People are reminded of their financial position every minute of the day. They want to escape, even if it's just for 30 seconds. Never has raising a smile been so important. With the prospect of a recession, another year without a bloody summer and the England team performing about as well as Meat Loaf working as a lap dancer, let's not have ads that follow suit."

JUNIOR PLANNER - Alice Fraser, junior planner, McCann Erickson

"To recession-proof your agency, you need to recession-proof your ideas. This means producing ideas that are more innovative and more effective than those cushioned by markets in growth.

"To do this, you need to look beyond advertising. While the IPA Effectiveness Awards shortlist proves that TV is still important, a downturn is the time to prove that you are genuinely media neutral. As budgets are cut, agencies will be forced to generate ideas that find new channels to build their clients' brands.

"This poses a challenge to clients: they will be faced with the dilemma of whether they spread their budget further and thinner over many agencies, or challenge their existing agencies to broaden their expertise and offer. The best agencies will be able to do more for clients, from production to digital to research, with the efficiency of being all under one roof.

"Recession-proof work must demonstrate its effectiveness. The best agencies will be geared up to prove their return on investment. In bearish times, having the tools in place to evaluate response before, during and after a piece of communications will be crucial.

"A recession tests an agency's ingenuity. The best will see the opportunities in a downturn, not just the obstacles. No-one likes a recession but, if anyone is going to make the most of it, it should be creative-minded people like us."