Good things emerge from bad times
A view from Andrew Stephens

Good things emerge from bad times

Rival independent agencies helping each other is just one of the unexpected upsides of the coronavirus crisis.

So, here we are: we have just completed our first month of lockdown and it has been a pretty challenging time for all, regardless of whether you’re media or creative, network or independent. 

But, through all this mess, some good things and some good behaviours are emerging that my business partner Ben Hayes and I wanted to shine a light on. 

Not just for the sake of it, but because during the normal hustle and bustle of our industry these actions, these people and these initiatives are either suppressed, not fully appreciated or, indeed, simply not happening. 

Our hope is that, by sharing some of these good behaviours, we can acknowledge them but, more importantly, continue to value and support them when better times return.

But before I share these good industry behaviours, I thought it only right to lift the lid on the Goodstuff challenges and actions, so you have some honest context for my views. 

We all know the holding company financials and action plans, but by sharing our position it might help other independents with a point of comparison. 

It’s not to say what we are doing is right or wrong, good or bad. But there is one thing I’m absolutely certain of. It's that we’ve tried to live up to our number-one value: do the right thing – for our people, clients and agency brand, at every turn.

So this is where we are right now: accounts being filed this month will show a 2019 profit north of £3m and our latest reforecast for this year, where we’ve taken what we hope is the worst-case scenario, is break-even. 

In this current scenario, we have factored second-quarter income down around 50%, third quarter only marginally better and fourth quarter still some way off our original projection.  

In terms of our cost-control measures, the two founding partners – Ben Hayes and I – have taken a 30% pay cut; the partner board are taking a 20% pay cut; our leadership team are taking unpaid leave equating to 10%; and we have furloughed 33 staff (27% of the agency). 

Beyond these cost-control measures, we have also frozen pay rises and further hiring not already committed to, and held off any discretional spends. 

Finally, as part of these measures, we will endeavour to "make good" as many of those Goodstuffers who have made financial sacrifices as we can (providing the business turns a profit at year end).

So, with that information as a backdrop, here are three good behaviours that I hope will continue well after Covid-19 has passed us by.

Good friends

You find out who your friends are in times of crisis and, I have to say, the entire industry has come together incredibly well, regardless of where people work or which side of the fence they sit on. 

But, for me, the standout positive is a group of independent agencies that have come together (thanks to Rufus Leonard and The Specialist Works for organising) to share our experiences, our plans, our ideas and our concerns. 

And what’s brilliant about this group, which includes the7stars, Brainlabs, Uncommon Creative Studio, Creature, Total Media and Unlimited Group, is the openness and honesty with which everyone is laying bare their challenges and, in some cases, frailties, and being open to new collaborations. 

In normal times, we would mostly be frenemies, but during Covid-19 we have put our competitive streak and discipline differences to one side to help and support each other.

We have only had a few meetings so far, but what is already abundantly clear is the passion and drive to do something exciting externally (and not just be a talking shop) to help our collective mission.

So, watch this space for hopefully the start of a longer-term united group of independents helping each other, but also some exciting initiatives…

(If you’re an independent agency, share our values and would like to join, let me know.)

Good work

One of the things Goodstuffers and I love about this industry is our proximity to and relationship with the world’s finest creative brains – creative brains that during this commercial lockdown are redeploying their artistry for good causes and with dramatic effect.

I can’t list them all, but here are just some of the creative initiatives that have caught our eye: St Luke's and #StayHomeNow; Creature’s "Thanks" (and not to mention the socially brilliant Horse & Zoom); Uncommon’s continued great work with ITV and "Get Britain talking"; the Publicis ad-break takeover for "Responsible shopping"; Channel 4’s #Clap4OurCarers, which a number of our clients took part in; Atomic’s "Posters for the people" idea; and, last but by no means least, Dark Horses' Not Fur’Long temporary agency set-up.

Here’s to more of that to come from within and outside Goodstuff.

Good people

Finally, if I can indulge for a moment to shine a light on our own Goodstuffers, including those who don’t normally bathe in the industry spotlight. 

Because, to get through this crisis, we, as does every agency, need everyone pulling together and being the very best they can be. 

And, like other agencies I’m sure, I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing our human resource and finance teams come into their own, the investment team successfully negotiating to move huge sums of money around, client teams building yet stronger client relationships, our board partners being seriously passionate about our brand values and why they matter more now ever, senior stakeholders making financial sacrifices, and 33 wonderful people taking furlough.

And, last but by no means least, the wider agency that continues to deliver great work and great client service remotely.

So, a big thank you from Ben and me to all our Goodstuffers and all the good people in our industry.

The good times will return.

Andrew Stephens is founding partner of Goodstuff Communications