How experience agencies are delivering for brands during social-distancing times

Leading specialists discuss working with brands effectively without being face to face.

Social distancing: TRO staff share their WFH set-ups
Social distancing: TRO staff share their WFH set-ups

The UK lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic means that experiential agencies, like the rest of the business community, are now working from home. But how does an industry that celebrates social interaction work with clients when social-distancing measures are in place?

Although there is still uncertainty around how long we will be out of our offices, it is important to innovate swiftly in order to effectively deliver projects. Work includes "pivot projects" (campaigns that involve modifying previous plans to adhere to social-distancing guidelines) and traditional experiential taking place later in the year. Pitches are also going ahead, as it is thought that audiences will be attending live experiences before the year is over.

Campaign spoke to experiential agencies about how they are collaborating with brands effectively without being face to face.

Amelia Shepherd

Managing director, TRO

Our approach to our work has always been "people first" and never has that been more important than it is now. We are in this together – our clients are also adapting to new ways of working and trying to navigate the uncertain weeks and months ahead. Shared experiences are a great way to build relationships, so using new and different digital tools and figuring out ways of maintaining virtual face time is a great opportunity to strengthen them.

Now is the time to rely less on email and keep connecting, so we are picking up the phone to talk and listen more. Collaboration tactics naturally vary by client, but we are doubling down on the principles of proactivity and creativity, assessing and sharing implications for planned activity whilst looking for opportunities and new creative solutions to our clients’ challenges – both immediate and longer term.

It’s also important to be aware of clients’ personal circumstances. We’ve created a number of internal resources – including a home-schooling support group – which we are sharing where appropriate to help ease the strain while clients figure out ways to pivot.

It’s easy for agencies to look good when times are good, but if you can maintain strong relationships with your client through the hard times, then you have a relationship for life.

Ben Essen

Chief strategy officer, Iris

Aside from dealing with the odd eight-year-old tantrum mid-meeting, we’ve found removing analogue constraints surprisingly empowering. For the last week, we’ve been using virtual workshopping tools like Miro to host Covid-19 contingency sprints with our clients. This has allowed cross-discipline groups of clients to work with our own specialists in innovation, comms and consulting to co-create a rapid response plan.

We’ve found that this virtual approach has actually broken down internal barriers for clients and helped them do more, more quickly – particularly those working across multiple geographies. Many of the techniques we’re using we have been honing for a while, as we have tried to limit our physical travel due to the climate crisis.

This now feels like our opportunity as an industry to embrace the "era of live" and evolve the way we work for good.

Paul Stanway

Co-founder and creative director, XYZ

We’ve always been about more than just delivering brand experiences at XYZ – everything we do is strategically informed and so we’ve been in overdrive these past few weeks looking at how we can adapt to help not just our clients, but also ourselves. With problems as complicated and huge as Covid-19, you have to accept that it’s not about solving it and more about managing the impact it has on you and your clients.

This crisis will pass and what the world looks like when it does is going to be different. Weeks of isolation will have changed consumer behaviour; different clients are going to be hurting in different ways. We are building a creative problem-solving service and have already been workshopping contingency plans with clients, providing scenarios that will enable them to adapt to new timetables and shifting situations.

Fundamental to all of this is ensuring we keep the team together and have an even stronger agency to bounce back with. Our team is why we have clients in the first place, so we’re doing everything we can to bind that little bit tighter and come through this.