What type of agencies will emerge stronger after the crisis?

Agencies have been quick to adapt to life from home, but what are the traits needed to succeed in the future?

Coronavirus: work by (clockwise from left) Pablo, St Luke's and Anomaly
Coronavirus: work by (clockwise from left) Pablo, St Luke's and Anomaly

To quote just about every email in your spam folder right now, we are living through strange and unprecedented times. 

The UK ad market is braced for impact, expecting a drop of 50% this month alone as the repercussions of Covid-19 begin to bite. 

Cinema and out-of-home have emerged as early casualties, with theatres across the nation closing their doors (much to the disappointment of Mr Bond) before the "great lockdown of 2020" rendered people housebound in an attempt to curb the spread of the virus. Unsurprisingly, the second quarter is set to be a bust for outdoor advertising.

This rapidly changing landscape requires agencies to act fast. Creatives from shops including Anomaly, Engine, Pablo and St Luke’s have already released work encouraging people to practise social distancing – indicating that quick-footed creative thinking will be the saving grace in an otherwise bleak era for agencies.

It is true that, right now, perhaps the most important thing is kindness, as And Rising's Jonathan Trimble suggested. But the crisis won't last forever. When it is eventually all over, what kind of agencies will emerge stronger? 

Jonathan Trimble

Chief executive, And Rising

Right question, wrong time. Management heroics will point at how fast you act multiplied by how big you pivot and so on. But this feels and is different. It asks for deep empathy of each other and respect for our interdependence. Working day by day, with what you have, to get to tomorrow, is just as valid a way to figure out how to progress. We will return to this question in due course; for now, we work on the basis that business kindness today is the best form of innovation for tomorrow.

Victoria Fox

Chief executive, AAR

Behaviour demonstrated under these abnormal circumstances will surely become the new normal. Those agencies that will be best-placed to succeed will be those that have demonstrated a number of traits: making balanced decisions between the physical and mental welfare of their staff and driving profits; have helped their clients think about the whole of their marketing value chain beyond communications; that have provided transformative yet practical ideas, and delivered them through modern production methodologies not bound by the need to always bring people together in physical locations. Perhaps we will also emerge as a more collaborative and respected industry as a result.

Jim Coleman

UK chief executive, We Are Social 

What will determine how well any agency comes through this crisis is how well they look after their people and how well they communicate what they’re doing to adapt. Their focus has to be on being transparent with their plans, keeping the team's morale high and supporting people’s mental health. For a team to emerge stronger, they need to feel listened to and understood in a time of crisis and trust the decisions being made by those at the top. The same is true of client relationships – brands will form better-lasting relationships with agencies who can guide, lead and provide sage advice when they’re uncertain as to how to respond and react.

Alex Best

Co-founder and chief operating officer, Wonderhood Studios

The obvious answer to this is the agencies that have the strongest balance sheets. Weathering the financial storm is critical, but I’d argue that there are two other factors at play: culture and agility.

Culture is the glue that binds an agency together, especially now that we are physically apart. An agency that maintains a strong culture will find that staff are able to get out of bed and approach their work with the same energy and dedication as before.  Agility to solve our clients new and changing problems will also be key and will demonstrate that we’re not just here to do the colouring in. If you’ve got all three, your agency will emerge stronger.

Tina Fegent

Marketing procurement consultant

In the short term, the ones that will survive are the ones that have been and are financially prudent and solid with their clients and their positioning. Mid-to-long term, given that we are in an oversupplied agency marketplace, it is the agency and the people that give clients the best service to the budgets that they have coming out of this period. 

Holding companies have been under pressure for years and the ones that will succeed are the ones that are flexible in their organisational structure and the way that they work, and listen to their clients' requirements, which could have changed in this period.

No-one can predict when this will end, nor what the most effective combination of agency models will be when we come out of it, but agencies should use the time now to review, streamline, create and plan.

Al Mackie

Chief creative officer, Rapp

Things are unlikely to return to just the way they were before the pandemic. So brands will need to listen to customers to stay relevant in the new normal. Customers are likely to re-evaluate their priorities and we’re likely to see a change in purchase behaviours. Which means agencies that know how to understand customers and treat them as individuals will be very busy. And agencies with the ability to build brand experiences that adapt in the moment will also have a lot to do. Right now, though, we need to look out for each other.

James Clifton

Group chief executive, Mission 

The fearless ones.

The lockdown has given the industry a chance to prove that we can deliver multifaceted, multi-market campaigns while working remotely from each other. Agencies should take this transformative energy and maximise on all the new opportunities that will emerge. We have been accelerated into the disruption that was already all around us and the agencies that can keep the momentum going, maintain innovation at this new speed and see this as a challenge and an opportunity – not a phase that needs to be ridden out until they return to normal – are the ones that will emerge stronger.