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Great things can be born of adversity. And despite the past year we’ve all had, Covid-19 has offered agencies a golden opportunity to showcase the value and impact they can deliver as they help clients navigate a rapidly shifting consumer landscape.

Consider some of the things all of us – agencies and brand owners alike – have had to do over the past 12 months.

We’ve had to adapt to change, quickly, by being agile and flexible enough to respond to a dynamic landscape that’s shifting ever faster. This, in turn, has in many cases meant being willing and able not just to make the few odd tweaks here and there, but to pivot.

We’ve had to be creative – and not just in our creative output – finding innovative solutions to problems we could barely imagine just a year before. This has meant both adapting existing tools and also building new solutions from scratch.

We’ve had to listen – paying closer attention to how consumers’ wants, needs, and behaviours have been changed by the pandemic. And we’ve had to analyse more carefully what this means in order to distinguish the temporary shift from those likely to be permanent and tailor solutions accordingly.

Above all, we’ve had to reconfigure – everything from our business models, systems, and processes to our mindsets, expectations, and ambitions – to a new world in which change is no longer cyclical periodic but constant.

All of which is why, we believe, what clients have wanted and needed from us over the past nine to 12 months is what clients will now expect from agencies in 2021 and beyond. And we believe those expectations will revolve around four broad themes.

A more flexible agency-client relationship

Advertising and marketing is and always has been about adapting and flexing – to changing market conditions, to changing client needs, and to changing sources and supplies of resources.

Moving forward, there will be growing expectations on both sides of a more flexible agency-client relationship, with greater flexibility in contract terms, in resourcing, and in remuneration.

Irrespective of size, those agencies that don’t flex in this way will be outpaced by those who do.

A led-by-the-specialists approach

There is much talk by policymakers during the pandemic crisis of the need to be ‘led by the science’. In advertising and marketing, greater emphasis moving forward will be placed on being led by specialists.

This is not simply a perpetuation of the old specialists vs jack of all trades debate. Some clients will continue to seek a specialist agency to meet certain needs while others, preferring a full-service proposition won’t.

The fact is, both models have their benefits. And moving forward, a better understanding of all sides of the clients’ needs and how those needs are met will be more important.

Clients’ desire for specialist knowledge will be best met by those who can clearly articulate the different skills and capabilities individual team members within the agency – rather than just the agency as a whole – can bring to the table.

The human touch: an even greater focus

Being human and human understanding has always been important. But the human touch needed for both has never been more critical to the success or failure of a business – any business – than it has been during the pandemic crisis.

It’s about understanding how consumer's wants, needs, and behaviours have changed, why, and for how long. It’s about approaching everything you do through the empathy lens, and ensuring authenticity whatever you do and across every output.

Having the systems, structures, and processes to be ever more human-centric isn’t enough. You also need the appropriate tools. And, above all else, the right organisational culture.

Re-imagining success

A world in which change is now a constant means agencies will need to keep recognising and adapting to the implications of this change from their client’s perspective.

As touched on above, a more flexible approach to agency remuneration will fast become the norm. So agency teams will need to focus more heavily on value rather than costs and better show the ROI of their activity.

Agencies will need to think about how equipped they are to deal with increasingly sophisticated digital measurement techniques, such as conversion modelling.

Ahead of Google’s phasing out of third-party cookies on Chrome browsers by 2022, agencies will need to be ready to upskill and put in place the infrastructure so that they can continue accessing the consumer insights that allow them to accurately measure campaign success.

But agencies will also need to be ready for how clients’ own definition of ‘success’ evolves from here. Tomorrow’s success may not be defined by increased profit, for example, but positive impact on a community, society or the environment – or, even, success in innovation.

Whatever their clients’ definition of ‘success’ is tomorrow or beyond, agencies must keep pace – to enable their clients to meet their business goals and to demonstrate the value of their own contribution and how successful that was, too.

Cat Davis is group marketing director for Mission Group and Krow Group.