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Ways Agencies Can Succeed in a Post-COVID-19 World

Your clients are getting the green light to open their doors again. But things can't get back to normal for a while.

In this article, the Ideal Media team is sharing how we're helping agencies better serve their customers after COVID-19 and how you can better plan for the road ahead.

The Reality:

The world is changing at a force and velocity that nobody rational would have anticipated in a pre-COVID-19 world. Many of us are still grappling with the short and long-term changes that the last few months has forced on our personal and professional lives. The data, news and rules available changes daily, which makes it difficult to keep up with the latest global developments alone, much less make informed decisions.

COVID-19 has had a significant impact on the current state of the economy in a way that makes even the greatest optimist feel like a boat lost at sea. More than half a million companies in the UK reported being in ‘significant distress’ in April. COVID-19 had shut down a quarter of UK businesses and the majority of those that still operated reported lower turnover, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Of course, with the easing of the lockdown rules, many businesses have prepared to open their doors again, but we are far from seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Unemployment has hit record levels, airlines aren't expected to return to pre-COVID flights for an entire two years and consumer confidence has been severely shaken. Some experts even speculate there could be a spike in cases come winter which means we may need to prepare for stricter rules again in the not too distant future.

With all of this in mind, the majority of businesses will be reducing advertising budgets significantly. Some experts speculate there could be a 30-40% drop in ad investment over the next 12 months depending on how long it takes us to get out of this. An overall drop in ad investment will mean a lot less service needed from agencies.

Nobody is sure how deep and long-lasting the current crisis will be or what normal will look like on the other side. But there will certainly be a significant impact on marketing agencies large and small.

That means to survive, agencies will need to take the following actions to retain their current clients while capturing new ones, they will need to innovate new ways to increase purchasing opportunities and they will need to optimise costs.

To help you, we've made a list of steps that you can take to stay afloat in the aftermath of the crisis.

Start by auditing your client portfolio and identifying their needs

Yes, this is about how agencies can survive, but that won't happen unless your clients survive. If you haven't done so already, you need to audit your client portfolio and assess the unique realities that each of them are facing in their industry.

With fewer funds available for an “Above The Line” analysis of clients, and limited resources for what can be done “Below The Line,” your strategy has to be advantageous to both yourself and the client – can you give them the same, or more, bang for their buck without the razzmatazz they wanted? After all, the revenue is important, not just the awareness, so finding alternative ways to do the same activity is essential.

Revisit the services you offer

Identifying where you may additionally assist your client will help you retain their business. For example, if you are a creative agency, then adding in the ability to provide data for the client campaigns will be a way to go forward – offering email services by partnering with an Email Service Provider (ESP) can also add value to your offering and deliver solutions.

Targeting new services towards your current clients is a good place to start as they likely already work with you because they require more marketing power than they have in-house.

New services could also mean providing prospect data, marketing automation or web development services. If you don’t have the in-house skills, then consider partnering with another agency that does have the skills and is prepared to work with you as part of your organisation. Alternately, if you have the finances, upskill your staff in order to fulfil new service needs and maximise their client time.

Focus on your competitive advantage

Doing business remotely means we are truly in a global economy. Agencies and firms with offshore teams that can offer complementary services at economical rates could also be a way of delivering added value to the client if you can’t find the service at home.

Alternately, because of the current remote working scenario, why not promote your product or service in other countries where there is a similar need?

Moving this way means you will be able to differentiate yourself from the competition and will allow you to focus not only on your quality of work, your unique offerings and your assets but it will also move you away from the noise of branding, remember the biggest isn’t always best at everything!

Be flexible with your pricing

Needless to say, you need to be flexible with your services- but selecting the right price (and pricing model) is just as important. It's likely that large-budget projects are going to become more scarce (and more competitive). If possible, delaying invoices or temporarily reducing pricing might help you. You could also consider one of the dozens of pricing models and strategies such as including a percentage of spend, billable hours, bundle pricing, freemium etc.

Be creative with how you speak with and deliver to clients

In the height of the pandemic, hair stylists, personal trainers, pizzerias and childcare providers innovated new (and exciting!) ways to provide services remotely. Desperate for a hair consultation? Get on zoom. Hoping for a date night? Your favourite restaurant is offering recipe boxes.

Like small businesses, you also need to be creative and flexible to reach out to existing customers as well as serve new prospects.

Invest in digital marketing channels

Maintaining relationships is essential. You're definitely not going to run into that decision-maker at a networking event, and we doubt that you are keen to put up flyers at your local grocery store. And since communication with everyone outside of our homes and businesses will almost exclusively be digital you will need to create winning strategies.

Become data-driven

If you aren't already data-driven you will need to learn to be. Being data-driven means, you need to gather, manage, analyse and derive insights from your data that demonstrates the value you contribute, moves prospects down the sales funnel and optimises processes. If you've digitised your organisation during the lock-down you're likely already generating valuable data for your business.

Additionally what additional value can you add to your clients' data? Consider people that have visited their shops and registered their address for delivery – can the client market to them digitally? If so use data suppliers who can add attributes to the data – ensuring, of course, they hold the proper permissions!

Invest in your data

We don't need to explain to you how frustrating it can be to have a database full of out of date prospects or poorly matched datasets. Your clients' datasets are one of the key ways they can ensure that they deliver high-quality products or services consistently and cost-effectively. If they haven’t got the ability to communicate digitally, use one of the quality data providers to add the attributes.

Reach out to your neighbours with change

The negative is that the impact of coronavirus and COVID-19 is unlikely to be a small-scale thing.

The positive is that it presents a huge opportunity to embrace the changes and think long-term about how you can add value to your client offering and enhance your reputation as being the go-to, thereby saving your client all the effort and worry!

If you’ve done your job well so far, they will trust you and respect your advice- so changing a promotion from getting them to the shops for enhancing their online journey will go down well as most online stores have seen a massive uplift in sales whereas traditional shops have stalled and fallen short.

Michael Rennison has been in the Direct Marketing Industry for over 30 years and has specialised in the use of data for targeting campaigns and adding value to clients marketing services. He has worked exclusively in the agency market supporting agencies with their data needs and being part of their team for pitches – Michael does not work with the end clients as he does not believe in the conflict of interest.

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