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The best agencies have always operated in a sort of pseudo crisis -- a make-believe deadline or last-last minute client request. So, when a real global crisis did come along, it is no surprise that agencies led the charge for new ideas, ways of working, and tools. That is not to say agencies did not struggle, but rather they were fast to adapt, engineering new ways of collaborating with clients through the cloud. 

These were among the findings of a Dropbox-sponsored panel of senior executives in IT and marketing on creativity and cloud collaboration at The Drum’s recent Digital Transformation Festival. Panellists further explored how, as we edge closer to another shift: the return to ‘normal’, agencies and their clients must again adapt by deciding which pandemic processes are for keeps and which were just Band-Aid solutions. It is those agencies that strike the right balance which will be well-positioned to form even tighter bonds with their clients in the future.

As Andy Wilson, director of media at Dropbox commented, “As we come out of this, we need to be thinking about how we take the things that have worked during the pandemic and evolve them, rather than just saying ‘it’s worked for the past 12 months, it'll work for the next 5 years’.”

The changing nature of client relationships

In the wake of global lockdowns, client relationships have understandably morphed from in-person to on-screen. And that has led to a big question for agencies: how do you adapt the in-person trust you’ve built over years to a virtual world?

The answer has been a little surprising, as Liz Roche, general manager and chief strategy officer at Havas CX Helia, observed, “In uncertain times, clients are leaning on agencies for more direction, often asking what other clients are doing or saying about new, unexpected challenges.”  

Roche also pointed out that an antidote for limited face-to-face client time is more inclusion in the process. “Clients are looking to participate earlier in the process,” she said. “For agencies, it’s about making clients feel like they’re actors in the play, not just critics of the play. It has been critical to building camaraderie with clients that we usually build face to face.” 

Agencies are using collaborative tech to strengthen this position. The ability to share large files and content through collaboration tools like Dropbox is helping creative agencies and clients edit and review work faster -- even with large files and limited bandwidth. And, communication tools like Slack are keeping channels open and transparent so the right messages get to the right person.

These are just a few of the tools out there that are bringing clients further into the creative process and building even closer relationships than before.

Flexibility is leading to more opportunity 

In the wake of massive upheaval, clients and agencies are now asking “when will things shift again?”

At a time when, as Alex Wares, managing director at Transmission, put it, “clients aren’t looking to find new partners, they’re looking to consolidate the partners they already work with and help them in specific areas” this is a huge opportunity for agencies to demonstrate new capabilities, expand what they offer to clients, and tighten the working relationship.

In particular, the wide-spread adoption of cloud-based ‘everything as a service’ tools which arrived with the pandemic has given agencies new-found flexibility to offer new, unique solutions to clients that strengthen their position.

The risk of trying new things is lower than ever. “On a pitch, you’re not making impulsive and expensive tech decisions that might come back to haunt you. If it doesn’t work, you can drop it and move on to the next tool.”, said John Scrivener, managing director at Abbeycomp IT Solutions.

Build ‘culture’ beyond your agency

Just like client relationships, team relations have been through a feeling-out process throughout the lockdown.

The puzzle for agencies has been: how do you maintain the productivity gains that clients have come to expect without losing the creativity, collaboration, and unified sense of purpose that comes from face-to-face interactions?

“Agencies have traditionally been ‘work hard, play hard’ environments with high pressure to deliver,” continued Wares. “But, the pandemic has made them ‘work hard, play never’. There's been a relentless pace and requirement to deliver without any of the good stuff like shared creativity and collaborating with workmates.”

Cloud collaboration tools like Slack offer a great starting point to foster collaboration and creativity. But how can agencies improve their digital workspace?

Bringing your clients into these collaboration tools too improves the relationship on both sides. It transforms the feeling of a two-sided client-agency relationship into the feeling of a single team working towards a unified goal.

This is just the tip of the cloud-collaboration iceberg

The way we operate may evolve but exactly how is up to each agency. Some agencies will adapt and emerge as new, super-flexible collaboration machines while others will return to their previous practices.

These are just a couple of ways the pandemic has altered the client-agency relationship. Watch the full ‘It takes two to create: how cloud collaboration has benefited client-agency relations’ panel discussion with agency experts:

  • Andy Wilson, Director of Media, Dropbox
  • Alex Wares, UK Managing Director, Transmission
  • John Scrivener, Managing Director, Abbeycomp IT Solutions
  • Liz Roche, General Manager and Chief Strategy Officer, Havas CX Helia
  • Rebecca Stewart, Trends Editor, The Drum at The Drum’s Digital Transformation Festival