Covid-19 has had a chilling effect on our industry. The second quarter of this year saw marketing budgets contract at the fastest pace in the 20 years since the IPA Bellwether began, with public relations spend cut by over 40% – leaving many agencies on their knees.
At firstlight, we’re not immune. We would be lying if we said this hasn’t been a difficult year. In fact, in the space of two strange and scary weeks in March, we swung from expecting our budgets to grow by 25% to anticipating a 25% decline in fee. That’s quite a swing.
Fast forward eight months, and the prognosis is looking much, much better. Our secret? Sticking religiously to the following three principles.
We tell our clients to ‘solve, not sell’, and for agencies it’s no different. When the first lockdown started, many of our clients’ needs changed overnight. In fact, for a short while, some didn’t even know what their needs were. Campaigns were paused, old positions were rendered irrelevant or even inappropriate and we all scuttled back to the drawing board.
Offer support rather than services
This is where it’s more important than ever to be a partner rather than a provider. A brain as well as hands on a keyboard.
This is where it’s more important than ever to be a partner rather than a provider. A brain as well as hands on a keyboard. Businesses needed intelligent advice and an external perspective to help them make big decisions fast. And it was our duty to give them the right advice, even if it meant ripping up our plans and starting from scratch or recommending that they didn’t proceed with activity that could have been lucrative for us.
To steal shamelessly from Ross from Friends, we all needed to ‘PIVOT!’ And, in the long run, that’s no bad thing. It presented an opportunity for us to try new things, gain new experiences and diversify our offer to ensure we’re even better equipped to meet clients’ needs in future.
By embedding ourselves in our clients’ business performance instead of thinking only of our own, we’ve made sure we’re in for the long haul.
Be prudent and address challenges head on
Every agency will have had to make difficult decisions during the pandemic. Search ‘redundancies’ on PR Week and more articles come up for 2020 than the last three years combined. I expect that some of these could have been avoided had businesses moved more quickly to cut their cost base in other ways.
We consider ourselves to be prudent rather than pessimistic. An early, meticulous audit of our outgoings allowed us to cut back on the costs that weren’t essential to us. Underused subscriptions were culled, and external training and entertainment were dialled down while we got our heads round the numbers and tried to predict the unpredictable. And, of course, we had to make some difficult but necessary decisions around our resourcing needs.
The longer that process is drawn out, the more damaging it can be. But by acting quickly, we managed to set ourselves up for success.
Continue to prioritise people
We’re very proud of the results we deliver for our clients, but we know that our success is entirely a product of our people. Our approach has always been to hire amazing people, then support and inspire them to do exceptional work – and this year’s no different.
Our approach has always been to hire amazing people, then support and inspire them to do exceptional work – and this year’s no different.
What is different is the way we provide that support and inspiration. Sadly, we’ve been deprived of our summer social and we won’t be gracing a cold European city with our festive presence this December. Instead, we’ve created new ways of checking in and spending time together – using Zoom for everything from yoga to a Halloween Taskmaster challenge – as well as rationed, appropriate use of the office as a ‘drop-in centre’.
While we paused external training for a few months, we continued to invest in developing our team through monthly ‘tea and training’ sessions. And now that we are in a position to do so, we’re delighted to be able to recognise people’s progression through a series of well-deserved promotions.
Most importantly, we’ve done everything we can to protect our team’s wellbeing. Regular ‘time to talk’ and ‘anything goes’ sessions are bringing us together so that, even though we’re all holed up at home, we’re never really too far apart.
We’re certainly not out of the woods yet. But we can see the light shining through the trees and we can’t wait for the party we’re going to have when we get there.