The pandemic has accelerated the need for fundamental change – this is achieved through nuanced adaptation not wholesale reinvention.

Having made tough decisions, supported your team and stayed close to evolving client needs, you’ve emerged into this worryingly open-ended ‘new normal’. 

Now the big question is what kind of agency you want to be when all this is over. Or more specifically, how to create competitive advantage by finally adapting to the changes the agency market has seen in recent years. 

It’s clear that differentiation, commercial models and leadership must evolve. And now is the time to act. 

The overdue evolution

Even before the pandemic, the pressures you’re facing were well established – from in-housing, new competitors and oversupply, to margin pressure, the talent crisis and a lack of differentiation. 

No wonder IPA President Nigel Vaz’s agenda is to ‘reimagine’ the role of the agency. And now COVID-19 has accelerated changes in how clients buy. They’re facing new problems with less money, more urgency and higher risk. 

This is a huge opportunity. But to capitalise in such a crowded market, agencies must become more client-centric and specialised. Rather than ‘targeting’ any CMO with a budget, you need to refocus on where your core expertise overlaps with specific client problems. 

That means binning outdated habits like having a strapline masquerade as your proposition or assuming that pitching is the best way to grow. 

You’ll also need to challenge outdated behaviours and mindsets. For example: 

These are nuanced, business-wide shifts. And this step-change in differentiation has moved from important to critical. 

Build your agency’s customer experience

Real change starts at the top and doesn’t stop there. An ‘initiative’ or two won’t cut it. But you don’t need to tear everything up and start again. It’s about focus – knowing what to stop doing, as well as doing more of what already makes you effective. 

Consider your agency’s entire customer experience. Just like brands in their own crowded markets, simply stating your case isn’t enough – you need to prove it. Once you’re clear on the promise you’re making to clients, everything you say – and do – should serve as proof. 

This is evolution not revolution. It requires a more deliberate, agency-wide connection between strategy and tactics, as well as a leadership model tailored to make change stick. 

On the commercial side, it’s about aligning your proposition, marketing and sales, plus roles, responsibilities and metrics, as well as structures, process and pricing. 

And to establish the behaviours needed to embed these changes, your leadership team must be 100% behind you – and be able to collaborate with genuine trust. 

Of course some agencies do need wholesale change to optimise for growth. Others just need a little course correction. But regardless of where you start, you need clarity and a plan. 

Your roadmap to growth

To build differentiation into every aspect of your agency’s customer experience, Co:definery works in partnership with creative leadership specialists Curve

Together we’ve developed the Expertise-Led Agency Customer Experience (ELACE) framework – a tool that delivers a bespoke roadmap for tangible change. 

By focusing on growth, holistic change is accelerated through a virtuous circle of commercial gains and demonstrably effective leadership. 

The window of opportunity

Transformation can no longer languish in the ‘too hard’ pile. But turning the tanker doesn’t mean boiling the ocean. Instead, fast-paced change prospers through targeted intervention.

Agencies are people businesses. Although they often face similar challenges, every solution is unique. There is no ‘average’, ‘ASAP’ is too slow and ‘best practice’ sets the bar too low. 

Both big picture and hands-on, Co:definery’s and Curve’s customer experience-led model for transformation provides bespoke guidance and embeds accountability for change. 

The pandemic has created an opportunity to address fundamental issues that have been looming for years. But to thrive as the market recovers, agencies must take decisive action now. 

Ask yourself – if not now, then when? Your competitors will be using this time wisely. 

To find out more, get in touch.

Image: Cindy Tang
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