Diary of an agency start-up: Staying positive during the virus storm
A view from Henry Daglish

Diary of an agency start-up: Staying positive during the virus storm

Henry Daglish wrote a regular diary for Campaign when he launched Bountiful Cow in 2016 and he returns to explain how his agency is coping with the coronavirus downturn.

There is little point in banging on about the difficulty of the past month for our agency, for our industry and for the world at large.

We all know it has been utterly crap and something that we never really thought we would actually have to deal with in anything other than a second-rate movie.

But it has happened, it’s still happening and there’s no doubt that it will reframe the industry and society as a whole moving forward. 

The last week of March was definitely the peak of the panic, with clients, media owners and media agencies all defending their immediate income position where possible.

All of which made for some difficult conversations. At times like this, we all have to understand that we are running businesses first and foremost and the strength of the client/agency relationships are put to test – the key point being that, unlike anything before, we are all in this together.

As for the Bountiful Cow herd, it was also a period of horrible uncertainty.

However, after the first four weeks of working from home, I now face the near-future with a level of increased optimism and positivity.

We have seen a number of  "let’s plan for the other side"-type client conversations and the overall market is switching towards a "making the most out of it" mindset, where it’s now much more a case of co-operation, empathy and collaboration, based mainly on getting through the short term.

I also feel more positive because I don’t think there could be a better time in which to be an independent agency (which no doubt sounds ridiculous to many).

Sure, our forecasts for the year ahead currently make interesting reading and the balance sheet is challenging, but being an independent has meant that we’ve been able to make all of our decisions incredibly quickly.

We’ve quickly understood the position, put a significant chunk of the team on furlough and implemented a number of measures to cut our cloth appropriately for the short term.

We’re a young independent agency; we’ve just had the strongest 12 months ever and we will all invest our future. We will exit this whole thing fitter, stronger and better than we ever have been. 

I really believe that the really bad news – business-wise – is now done. Of course, there will be more curveballs, but the stuff you shy away from in a normal working environment is complete. 

Throughout this weird time, I’ve had various calls/emails to check whether we’re OK – well-intended but driven by a belief that the independents are going to suffer most.

There’s a crazy misconception that the deeper balance sheets of bigger organisation will see them through this.

They might, and dipping into the balance sheet is absolutely the right thing to do at desperate times like this, but it needs to be done with a plan, a clarity of understanding of client positions and at pace in order to minimise cost.

Right now, the pace at which you can make informed decisions is crucial.

Let’s also bear in mind that we have only one market to worry about. 

I’m not sitting here with unbridled positivity; we absolutely haven’t weathered the storm yet, but we are more shipshape and will be more than ready to embrace the opportunities that will come our way when the world returns to its new normal.

That’s why when people call me to ask how we are, my response is: "I think we’re prepared to come out of this in a pretty good position, thanks. And we’re happy to help you guys if you need any."

Henry Daglish is founder of Bountiful Cow