Whether your agency is thriving or rebuilding, the pandemic has created new playing conditions and accelerated the need for a more progressive business model.
‘Necessity’, we’re taught, ‘is the mother of invention’. This evolved from Plato’s belief that “our need will be the real creator”. And whether you’re a Socratic scholar or, like me, were today years old when you learnt that, we can all agree that Covid-19 has proved him right.
No wonder, then, that six years of transformation occurred in the first six months of the pandemic. For agencies in particular, change wasn’t just constant – it was full-on and mission-critical. As clients scrambled to react to lockdown, you ploughed through tough questions in double-quick time under unique working conditions.
So what now? How are you feeling? And whether your agency has thrived or faltered, how can the year’s learnings accelerate your progress?
Back to the hamster wheel
With forethought, strong leadership and no little luck, many agencies have prospered under the pandemic. They’re feeling the ‘Covid bounce’ (in the UK at least) and optimism is high.
But with the client demands, relentless pace and daily compromises between work and home, many agency leaders also admit to asking ‘is this all there is?’. Buying into the default lifestyle and version of success is no longer a given.
For network agencies, the constraints feel more constraining and there’s a growing sense of jeopardy within the endless pressure to hit your numbers. And for independents, the traditional dream of selling to the highest bidder feels more distant, so founders are interrogating their aspirations in search of a more bespoke and controllable course.
So even if you’ve continued to prosper, existential questions still hang heavy in the air.
Can you even do this anymore?
If you’re running an agency that’s really suffered under Covid-19 – many of whom were simply too far from a chair when the music stopped – then you’re probably even more exhausted.
As well as the heightened everyday pressures and profound responsibility to protect jobs, you’ve also had to watch this thing you built – your baby – regress to a stage you powered past years ago.
If you’re questioning your motivation to rebuild, then please know that many others feel the same. To lose, say, six years’ progress in six months is hard enough. But it’s nigh on impossible to feel energised at the prospect of another six years’ toil, just to recreate the same fragility.
There has to be a faster route to a better business.
Old world or new?
Changes in the agency marketplace have been accelerated. So whether your agency is rebuilding or capitalising on a new wave of demand, you’re standing at a fork in the road. You can stick to the familiar practices – those that served you well in the past – or you can retool your agency to reflect changes in how clients buy.
From Tokyo to Glasgow, New York to Newbury and Munich to Manchester*, Co:definery has spent the last year helping agency leaders challenge conventions, embrace their opportunity and adopt lasting change.
These are the prevailing shifts to make:
- Be brave. Strongly attract the right clients and don’t be afraid to repel the rest. Say ‘no’ daily. Have a point of view. Be liberated by the reality that ‘specialising’ isn’t small or limiting.
- Be decisive. Get serious about differentiation – have a strategy, not just a strapline. Define the problem you solve, use clear language and avoid the pitfalls of repositioning.
- Be holistic. Live and breathe your proposition every day. De-commoditize your entire agency Customer Experience so that everything you say and do demonstrates your unique expertise.
These are mindset shifts as much as strategic imperatives. So embed big picture change into everyday structures, processes and behaviours. Don’t let legacy beliefs slow you down.
As a case in point, for all your pandemic-driven innovations and fresh ways of working, which new habits will you retain? In particular, which will you staunchly defend when clients ‘encourage’ a return to normal?
Your opportunity is to focus – choose the right path, back yourself and double down on the changes required.
New market, new mindset
It’s often said that history is written by the victors. But even though business needn’t be a zero-sum game (i.e. for you to win, I must lose), you still aspire to being one of the success stories of the 2020s – whatever the decade may hold.
And although there’s no real evidence that the network agencies are dying, there are plenty of reasons why the likes of Dept, S4 Capital, Croud, MSQ and others are thriving.
They’re not riding high solely on demand for digital services – there’s also a progressiveness in their strategy, leadership, people and growth culture.
So regardless of how your agency has fared or how much energy you’ve got left in the tank, if you want to accelerate towards a healthier, more sustainable form of growth, it’s time to be bold.
Focus and conviction were often dismissed as impractical luxuries for the privileged few, but now more than ever, they’ve become a necessity for all.
(* sorry – went a bit ‘Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick’ there)