Some of the immediate shock from drastic work changes due to coronavirus are fading, leaving agencies with big questions about whether to go forward, how to proceed, and what to plan for. Reduced (or eliminated) in-office hours and changing consumer behaviors don’t have to mean an end to business as we know it, but they do give us a chance to change for the better.
How to Set Up a System of Agile/Adaptive Strategies
“In the age of the current uncertainty, many companies are wishing
they’d shifted to being more agile “yesterday”. Diana Russo, Agile HR
We see agility as an essential aspect of success during the coronavirus. Agility means being flexible and adaptable. What better time to test out how agile your agency is than to see how it managed to shift to a work-from-home model for all employees? But agility is more than where you set up your laptop. It’s a way of thinking and operating where the entire agency accepts that nothing is set in stone, aims for continuous improvement, and is willing to question the way things are done—to name just a few agile traits!
According to Atlassian, agile project management is “an iterative approach to managing… that focuses on continuous releases and incorporating customer feedback with every iteration.” Sounds like something every agency should be doing, doesn’t it?
In an article from 2018, Tobi DeVito shared how agile companies needed to embrace ambiguity, which allows agencies to “evolve how they sell to clients”, and establish a collaborative environment between agencies and clients in order to provide “Rapid development of live code shipped to real users”. Agility is exactly what’s needed during coronavirus, but it’s not new. It’s based on what works best.
But how do you actually establish agility?
The Work From Home portion of agility has been forced on most agencies, so the decision to try it has already been made. Pre-coronavirus studies already concluded that this method of working increases productivity and employee satisfaction.
There are practical considerations that go along with remote work: do employees have the equipment they need? Is their internet provider fast and reliable? Do they have physical space away from family/roommates and perhaps even free from background noise?
Communication can become better or worse, depending on your approach. For many, face to face meetings have been the backbone of their company’s work strategy. Without this option, how do you improve communication? Everyone seems to agree that email is not the same as seeing someone and talking to them. Thus the dramatic increase in software and apps that allow for virtual meetings.
Before you set up these meetings, make sure you have your agency goals clear and at the forefront of every planned interaction. Everyone needs to be on the same page about why they’re working and what their deliverables are.
KPI’s Chad Childress recommends scheduling weekly brainstorming and adaptation strategy sessions with your strategy and creative teams—micro brand planning sessions where the purpose is to ideate. This type of meeting will help with the challenge of building rapport and establishing regular communication when employees are distanced from each other.
Agility is very much about meaningful and productive relationships between employees and between agencies and clients. Agencies can develop relationships by being transparent, responsive, and always willing to shift strategies for the greater good.
Size is another important consideration in building agility. Bigger is not better. We’ll talk in the next section about the benefits to clients of working with smaller independent agencies. To become that agile agency, you need a team that is efficient, motivated, and gets the job done. Some of this can be taught, and managed into existence. (The ability to mute team members who drag meetings on with no point to offer is suddenly a very real possibility for virtual meeting managers!)
Why Should Clients Switch From a Big Bloated Network Agency to a Smaller Independent Agency?
Let’s take a minute to look at large network agencies according to Forbes.
Pros of a big agency:
- Years of experience
- Total brand management
- The budget for utilizing powerful tools such as data repositories
- One stop service: Same messaging across all mediums
- More likely to have a diverse culture and opinions
- Financial stability
Cons of a big agency:
- Big corporate structures are resistant to change and to doing things more efficiently
- Many junior people are saddled with the lion’s share of the work but without the seasoned experiences of senior staff
- Difficulty shifting to remote work
Smaller independent agencies are lean and nimble. Often staffers have expertise in more than one area, and they can overlap when needed. The lack of bureaucracy enables out-of-the-box thinking—it’s much easier for everyone to relax into brainstorming and feel comfortable giving out unlimited ‘what its’ and ‘how abouts’.
In the case of the sudden, unpredictable impact of coronavirus on marketing plans, smaller agencies were often better able to make an immediate shift that set their clients in the right place with a new message.
We liken the difference between large and small agencies as elephants versus leopards. Large agencies—the elephants—have been around for a long time. They make deep tracks and have long memories. When it comes to power moves, the large agencies dominate. The leopard is fast and agile. What it lacks in power it makes up for in cunning, and an ability to switch courses mid-race when the climate changes.
These smaller agencies are also more transparent. As Alfred Maskeroni for Adage says, they’re more likely to think about what they can produce over a sales number. When they are owner-run (and they usually are) there is freedom to make strategic decisions and immediately change things when it’s clear that change is needed. They’re not constrained by a need to report to a board/shareholders.
Many smaller agencies are remote by design and intention, and it was an easier transition for the rest to switch quickly to remote work. And, because they focus on deliverables, not hours billed, they offer specific costing and value, not bloated billing. In small agencies, everyone is invested in the success of the agency, and this commitment can really make the client’s vision shine.
However, smaller agencies don’t have the same financial stability of large ones. They are far more at risk of sinking or being swallowed up by big companies. They may need to work with third-party vendors for parts of a project, making program coordinating and brand consistency more of a challenge.
If You Feel You Already Have An Efficient, Agile, Remote Capable Agency, How Can You Get the Most Out of Them During the Coronavirus Pandemic?
There’s always a higher level to aim for, even when your agency has implemented the important strategies for agile operations.
Make sure you have primarily senior members on your team. You may pay a higher rate (and rightly so), but it will require fewer hours to get the work done, and your team will be more strategically appropriate for the landscape. These senior members bring value to both the campaigns and other employees who benefit from their experience and guidance.
The collective humanity, authenticity, and creativity that an agile agency can offer will be in particular high demand going forward. Encourage your team to express their strengths in these areas.
Cat Hartland, head of The Drum Recommends shares the results of a recent survey: “brands told us that the way agencies work is important, with the pace of how our world is now changing, brands will quickly identify how well agencies can quickly respond, adapt and support them effectively.”
“I strongly believe the Corona crisis is a test – is our organization future-proof? Are we agile? Can we react fast in a rapidly-changing world? Fast enough to be the first who will start a brand new communication? If we do – it’s good news. If we’re not, now it’s time to adapt.” Marta Sulkiewicz, Chief Executive Gemius GmbH & Chief Growth Officer Gemius Global. “The pandemic is to stay with us for a while. Marketers will have plenty of time to adjust their advertising strategy to the new reality. But for sure we will remember mainly the pioneers, not the followers.”
Pioneering can come from increased collaboration through weekly agile brainstorming sessions with your agency. Take advantage of your remote-working team to set some groundwork before these sessions. When individuals independently come up with ideas first, before sharing in a group setting, groupthink and convergence are deterred, and there is more space for uniqueness and creativity.
In addition to individual brainstorming, Art Markman wrote in Harvard Business Review that teams should focus on ideas not results or conclusions, and combine drawing and writing during brainstorming sessions.
Move resources into channels where you can almost instantly shift direction. Consider newly trending channels, influences, and programmatic advertising. “As the crisis evolves, marketers will increasingly need to ensure efficiency, especially from a cost perspective,” states Laetitia Zinetti, Ebiquity’s managing director for continental Europe.
Leveraging user generated content is both high impact, low production cost, scalable, and agile. “For the first time, big brands aren’t able to make those big budget television ads,” said Karyn Spencer, the senior vice president of partnerships at Whalar, an influencer-marketing agency. “You don’t need that full-blown production anymore. YouTubers taught us that.”
Finally, constantly refocus on agency-client relationships. When everything else is changing, the stability of a meaningful, trusting relationship that focuses on clear communication and a quality partnership is invaluable. When you couple this relationship with your agency’s ability to operate with leopard-like flexibility, you give your agency the best chance to turn the current crisis into an opportunity to make your clients shine.