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For digital agencies, there seems to be one factor above all others that’s determining their pandemic experience: scale. Chris Mellish, chief executive of TMW Unlimited and incoming Bima president, explains why protecting our smaller agencies is essential.

Bima's recent Digital Leaders’ Report highlighted a stark divide in the digital world’s experience of the pandemic. The report showed that large agencies are doing relatively well and many small and mid-sized agencies are not doing as well as they should be. Far too many said they were facing “catastrophic reductions in turnover”. There’s plenty the industry and the government should be doing to address that, but already it feels as though we’ve missed the boat in minimising the pain.

We haven’t been able to control the virus. We are, by most readings of the science, in a full blown second wave. We may have avoided a complete lockdown of the sort we saw this spring, but many areas of the country are creeping uncomfortably close to it and may creep closer still over coming weeks.

For the digital sector – as for so many others – avoiding a second full lockdown is essential. The economic consequences of that could be punishingly severe for many in our industry. To avoid the worst case scenario, we’ve needed clear and consistent communication on social distancing and safety measures. We’ve needed smart use of technology to monitor, test and trace the virus. And we’ve needed strong leadership to make sensible decisions – and to provide the information the public and businesses require to make sensible decisions of their own. I’d argue we’ve not had any of those things.

This virus doesn’t discriminate by industry, which is why the government needed to provide comprehensive support across every sector. In our own industry the Treasury has certainly delivered support for some brands and agencies, but it has not been comprehensive, and it has not been equal.

The smaller agencies identified by Bima's Digital Leaders’ Report are not only the ones most likely to be in a perilous situation right now; they and the suppliers they use are the ones most likely to have fallen between the cracks of government help. Their smaller scale means they simply don’t have the flexibility to cope with reductions in revenue compared with their larger peers. And they are less likely to have lots of clients spanning diverse sectors – which clearly helps when you’re trying to navigate challenging times. 

Of course, it’s not easy for anyone right now. But smaller agencies are critically important to our industry.  Not only do smaller agencies employ significant numbers of people but they are often the starting point for many people’s careers, the lifeblood of our industry. Lose enough of them and the longer-term consequences for all of us in the industry could be profound.

Smaller agencies have become an endangered species. It’s up to all of us – the government, Bima and the industry’s lager businesses, to help protect them.

You can read Bima's Digital Leaders' Report here