COVID-19 has changed client/agency relationships, perhaps for the better

Webprofits strategy and innovation director Alex Cleanthous
By Webprofits strategy and innovation director Alex Cleanthous | 24 August 2020
Photo credit: Tim Mossholder, Upsplash

Before the pandemic campaigns might have run for months without any change beyond basic optimisation. Those days are gone. The rate of change is unprecedented. Now, clients are more careful and are looking to adapt quickly. They have changed how they approach marketing and what channels they actually invest in.

It seems that the disasters of 2020 have left us with a more entrepreneurial client, one willing to take the risks to expand in a risky business environment. At least that’s my impression -- and hope.

The companies that are going to be aggressive now are going to be the ones that flourish in chaos, which is the entrepreneurial mindset. It’s really difficult to step into this madness and create structure.

That's what we want to do with our clients -- and that's the core of how an entrepreneur actually operates. So, this is the time for entrepreneurs who already understand that everything is always changing and shifting. The businesses who are actively marketing have the kind of leadership that is looking to start something new right now, to shift their messaging, and in some cases their offerings, while other businesses will be looking to not start anything because they're scared and are just hoping for the best.

There’s now a focus on direct response campaigns that produce near-term results, but also require a strong collaboration between brand and agency to work together in order to pivot messaging and stay relevant with rapidly-changing times.

Direct response campaigns have shifted. We’re in a constant process with clients of trying new creative and moving to whatever works best. That is business as usual for us but lots of other companies have other priorities that they need to fix internally and they probably have to make some cost cutting, so they won’t be investing in branding and advertising right now.

Digital advertising is the central effort for most companies because everyone's stuck at home. Certain efforts like outdoor advertising are not going to be a big priority for at least six months, but that doesn't mean that brands shouldn't do it -- costs have gone down and you may still get performance from it. Ultimately, the principles of marketing are all the same -- it’s the environment that has changed.

A Brand New Australia
It stands to reason that more agile, entrepreneurial businesses will thrive in a more constantly evolving environment, with a recent study indicating that attitudes about changes are surprisingly positive.

In a recent report Brand New Australia, by research agencies The Lab and Nature, Australians were found to be rebounding with optimism amid the impact of the pandemic. Over 6,000 people were surveyed two-thirds of which were found to believe the pandemic is “the reset we needed to re-evaluate how we are living”. And while half of respondents have significant worries about the future, one-third of respondents are excited about the opportunities that will arise from the crisis.

Perhaps as the crisis has accelerated digital adoption and digital commerce, it has also left Australia with a brave new form of entrepreneurship. Agencies that seek to partner with such businesses will need to be ready to work in a focused and rapid manner to drive real results and shift message and platform with agility as the changes continue to play out in the months to come.

Agencies and brands need to focus on core goals, shift their messaging, shifting platforms to follow what’s working -- they won’t have the room to become too comfortable any time soon.

It’s harder, clients want more. More creative, more strategy, more upfront, and more for their investment. But we are ready to be flexible and work with them -- I think we will all look back on 2020 as a year when agencies really had a chance to make a difference, not only for our clients but for the gradual economic recovery for the country.

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