How can agencies weather the storm of Covid-19?

It’s no surprise that brands now need help from agencies, even more than usual amidst this pandemic. So how can we collaborate better, and help one another, so as many of us as possible weather the storm ahead?

The virus that is gripping the world is a human catastrophe. The loss of life is immense and the governmental and personal decisions we follow and make have a serious impact on life or death.

Human safety is of course more important than any business. But the survival of businesses is also crucial to keeping roofs over families’ heads and putting food on the table. So many business owners and employees are extremely worried — and understandably so. We all are.

In human terms, we are in unchartered territory, but in business and economic terms there are learnings from previous financial crashes and economic meltdowns that can help our decision making.

Now, more than ever, is a time for us to look to the future, so what can, or should you do to keep your business alive?

Our guiding thoughts are all centred around 3 key pillars, which will enable and fuel your marketing strategies to give you the best chance of survival. As things are unfolding, and government advice changes on almost a daily basis, we are glad that we are releasing this now, in a post lockdown world and at a time that we have been able to test some of our theories and watch how the market is adapting and evolving.

Pillar 1: Be Agile

Now is the time to watch the market, to see what is happening to your clients, their competitors and potential client’s business and react quickly in a helpful way. Re-looking at your new business and marketing plans, and adjusting them accordingly to help your potential, and existing clients is so important now — we have done a lot of this ourselves in recent weeks.

What you were focussing on has potentially been turned on its head, so it is important to look at how you can help your existing and potential clients NOW in a new Covid-19 world. What services can you offer to help the market and how can you adapt and change to be more helpful? The brands and companies you have always wanted to work with are likely going to need your support and expertise more than ever, so changing how you communicate and reach them is important.

We have all already had to adapt and be agile, by changing where we work for instance. With most of us usually working in an office, studio or coworking space to now all working from home with our families, with some even taking on the role of teacher at the same time.

Agility, and not worrying about change, and being happy to change quickly in every respect is key to all of us, agency or not. You never know, you may even find some benefits and great things come from working in these new ways, it’s certainly going to change the way the world works going forward.

Pillar 2: Innovate quickly and collaboratively

Following agility, quickly comes the need to be innovative. To us, the two things are fully interlinked, you have to be agile to be able to innovate and changing and adapting quickly to new customer needs has never been more important.

So many businesses are doing this right now just to stay afloat — from restaurant chains becoming food delivery services, to drinks companies developing hand sanitisers and many more. If we have seen anything in the past few weeks, it’s been companies’ ability to innovate quickly. We should all be immensely proud of British companies like Leon, who are fast creating a new business model and launching as an Ocado-style home delivery service. To help and survive, it is turning it’s 57 UK sites into shops, selling and delivering groceries and meals. Customers will be able to order online (from a new e-commerce platform they are developing), pick up in store or order via Uber Eats. It will save over 1,500 jobs, keep their suppliers in business, help reignite the wider industry as well as help those who are in isolation.

Of course, other brands and companies in similar positions will of course need help in taking these new products or services to market, from a communication point of view through their digital marketing and more often than not through a new online e-commerce experience or new route to market. Could your agency help them develop something? Or even help them ignite their own new innovations?

If you have a team that is quiet, we would urge agencies to offer your help. Whether at normal rate, a reduced cost or for free, you will be helping our economy and I am sure if you can afford to help companies in need now, they will remember you when the tide changes again. And remember it will change, we won’t be living like this forever.

Pillar 3: Help and communicate

We have already referenced this in the above, but now more than ever is the time to be helpful. This is something that we always advocate at Street, however we feel that this advice is now more important than ever.

There has been a tidal wave of letters from CEO’s about Covid-19, as well as lots of people putting out blogposts, content and online events on how to work from home. Whilst this is helpful to some degree, messages do get lost and why would your content be more relevant or helpful than someone else’s? Are the people advising us on how to work from home really the experts on the matter?

What we are really advocating here is mapping back to how you help the brands that need you (which ideally should be through living your proposition, although this may need adapting in the current climate), and developing content and strategies that helps you connect with the brands that really need your help now. That could be to help rapidly build a new e-commerce solution as you are a small, agile e-commerce agency, or a brand specialist that knows how to develop branding that engages their new audience. Think about how you can help in a way that maps back to you uniquely as an agency, and once you have done this develop helpful content and strategies around exactly that.

What this is NOT is the time to go quiet, in fact quite the opposite. Hankering down, and not putting content out to help the brands that need you will just mean that when this passes, be that 3 months or 18 months’ time, you will not be front of mind, or the agency that they reach out to develop or deliver their next brief with.

Street Agency | Weathering the COVID Storm

Things to keep in mind whilst planning your activity

The buying cycle and agency pipeline

Agencies have a longer buying cycle than many businesses. Depending upon your type of agency, the lead time from intro to project start can be anything from 3 to 18 months or beyond.

Getting projects signed off is difficult

We know that in really tough times, the briefs often continue but the sign off of projects are slower. So we cannot pretend things will be unaffected and we know that inactivity now will result in a deficit of work and money in 3 to 18 months’ time when things pick up.

Protect your business

The right decisions are not always obvious but there are things you can do, both aggressive and defensive, that can help guarantee your longevity.

It is an opportunity

As cold and callous as it may sound, it is a reality. While others panic, pause and veer away from the plan, you can win new clients and work. Agency performance can often yo-yo in the win-while-you-are-quiet, lose-when-you-are-busy fashion.

The chances are you may have a quiet spell, so if you do make it count.

Street Agency | Weathering the COVID Storm

So what should you do?

Stay active

You need to ensure you don’t just batten down the hatches and do nothing when it comes to your new business and marketing activity.

Do something (not nothing)

The clients we are working with are still getting new project briefs, and we have been receiving these even this week whilst the globe is going into lockdown. We are also attracting more potential new clients into the pipeline, by adapting and re-looking at their strategies, changing content and marketing plans and activities quickly has enabled this. Here are some of the practical things you can do, to ensure you do the same;

– Redefine your content strategy, put out the helpful content that shows how you can help brands in this trying time.

– Develop campaigns in line with how you can help and push this out via your social channels.

– Take physical events online — there are a host of platforms that can help you do this from Zoom to Teams and many more.

– Collaborate with each other internally as well as other agencies to see how you could develop something that might help your target market.

– Reach out to warm leads (clients that you have spoken too, lost or engaged with over the past year) do they need your help now?

Do all the important things you haven’t had time to do

Agencies are busy and if something doesn’t have a deadline on it, it often doesn’t get done (unless the CEO/board insist). But just because something doesn’t have a deadline doesn’t mean it isn’t vital. Treat your own brand like a client and listen to your own advice.

The things that often get delayed are:

– Revisiting your strategy and agency value proposition in today’s market

– Updating your website and creds to better reflect your proposition and show your latest case studies and how you have helped clients

– Producing the content you always plan to create but never get around to, now is a great time to create evergreen content

If you feel you have a surplus of capacity, then you can go to the next level and:

– Conduct research to test your proposition resonates with your target audience

– Produce white papers in specialist subjects and industries

– Invest in your own side-project and one that displays some of your core skills

Prepare for the worst

Arrange an overdraft to cover a few months operating costs now rather than try later — or ensure you have access to a business loan that is palatable. It may not come to that, but it is better to be prudent. Survival is key, a recession is all but upon us and, sadly, there will not be as much competition in business on the other side.

Hang on to your best employees

You are only as good as your people. You can project and transmit ‘this is bad this is bad’ panic to others but you need to ensure that your best people are in the trenches with you and get through to the other side with you. Be more flexible than others. Be understanding at this frightening time. Be a team that communicates well. Be a great employer.

Have faith in your previous decisions

Even if companies are cautious, whatever happens the world cannot be on pause for long. Your clients and potential clients will need new business too, and by helping people through these unprecedented times only good things will come to you in the future.

Be the agency, and the person that does something, not nothing. Help others as much as you can, stay agile, stay positive and be brave. Now is the time to try new ways of working on all fronts, stay active to weather this storm.

In these times of need we would like to help you, just as we are advising you to help others. We know together we can and will survive this.

So, if you are responsible for new business at your agency and would like a chat to get some advice on the best next steps, please feel free to email our Founder, Katie Street, at [email protected] and we will help with free advice with ideas you can implement.

Street Agency | Weathering the COVID Storm

By Katie Street
20th April 2020
8 minute read