Wash your hands often. Don’t touch your face. No handshakes. Try the elbow bump, foot bump, or bow. Practice social distancing. Work from home. Stay at home. Pray for a speedy recovery. You know the routine. Flattening the acceleration curve is the best way to beat the Coronavirus menace. That said, business goes on. It must. But what does this pandemic mean for ad agency business development?
Marketers are pausing or cutting spending, an understandable reaction to the impact and uncertainty. Of course, those cuts impact their agencies, media, and technology partners. Reports are beginning to emerge of agency pay reductions, freelance freezes, and layoffs. There is no denying the seriousness of the virus and its impact on the economy. The more significant threat is the widespread hype and hysteria caused by uncertainty over how long and how deep it will go. These are unchartered waters for us all but we will get through it. And when we do, your agency must be ready to recover lost income and get back to growing.
Working from home is becoming the new normal. In the past couple of weeks, the automatic email replies have gone from “I’m out of the office traveling on business” to “I’m working from home.” That means more consumers are staying home and avoiding crowds, malls, restaurants, shopping districts, and other revenue-generating destinations.
Events, conferences, sports, festivals, sampling, street teams, experiential, travel, and tourism, even Disneyland is closed. Large crowds and person to person tactics are no longer viable marketing channels. Airlines and travel companies are taking a big hit, too. Traditional media that relies on live events, sports, and reality programming is greatly impacted.
While all of this sounds pretty bleak for businesses and their marketing spend, e-commerce is skyrocketing, and Amazon (just announced hiring an additional 100,000 workers to keep up with surging demand), FedEx, UberEats, even Carvana will boom. Companies have to sell products, and consumers still want to buy. Agencies that can help marketers quickly adjust to the new marketplace will capitalize on an urgent market need. Some bold marketers will adjust their tactics to the new reality. Agencies that refocus their business development efforts towards these marketers may uncover new opportunities now. Carpe diem!
Ecommerce is even more important
Now is the time to push reluctant brands into online sales, if for no other reason than to survive. There is immediate opportunity to quickly start or enhance a brand’s e-commerce capability, on their site, on the shopping platforms, through affiliates, and replace traditional retail with online traffic and sales.
Site traffic replaces store traffic
Brands with an established e-commerce presence and those new to online sales will need to compete for traffic. Agencies with expertise in search, social, PPC, and other traffic driving tactics will find opportunities in an increasingly competitive online environment.
Digital media replaces traditional
No better time to push traditional media spenders into more digital media. Without live events like sports and entertainment, traditional media inventory will become less effective and less valuable. There is an immediate opportunity for agencies to help brands move more money online and replace lost impressions.
Staying top of mind is essential
While customers stay home, destinations need to remain in consideration for future travel. Airlines and travel companies are taking a big hit. Like destinations, they need to maintain awareness until the crisis passes. Agencies that can help tell the destination story online through virtual experiences and other creative storytelling will solve an urgent need. Agencies who can develop novel ways to tell brand stories that don’t rely on fare discounts or trip urgency will help these brands get through tough times and come out ahead.
Champion trust and empathy
Businesses increasingly rely on transactional strategies to shorten the customer journey and hasten purchases. For industries most affected by this crisis, that strategy will alienate customers. Those brands must pivot toward a trusted advisor, a source of information and guidance with empathy for the effect this all has on the community. Agencies who can lead this strategic change and support it with great storytelling, content, and channel expertise will find opportunity short term while building relationships that will grow post-crisis.
Brand is a digital differentiator
Agencies should be counseling brands on how to shift marketing strategies to brand building and differentiation versus cutting spending or going dark. While the impact of the crisis is real, it will pass, but what will that new normal look like? History has shown us time and again that companies with strong brands, living brands, that appropriately evolve with the customer and the market will prevail. Agencies and bold marketers are essential to lead the brand and the company through the storm and come out better positioned for what’s next.
Be the leader
Going into 2020, marketers told us they want agencies who lead, who are agents of change, who are business partners. There is no better time than now to act bold, decisive, and confident, and sell that agent of change capability amid the current chaos and uncertainty. Be proactive with your clients. Provide a quick audit of activity along with recommendations of what to cut, change, and create. Do the same for your best prospects. Take the initiative, and they will likely listen.
Once this pandemic passes, it seems unlikely we’ll go back to the 2019 status quo. Agencies who can demonstrate the path forward will find new opportunities where others can’t. Marketers who appropriately adjust to the situation with the help of their agencies will be much better positioned to come out stronger.
Good luck, and stay well!
If you need help recasting your business development strategy during these unprecedented times, I’ve got some ideas and would enjoy sharing them with you. Ad agency business development will not be the same going forward. Agencies that work now to adjust will be in the best position to recover when the Coronavirus subsides. If you like this post, sign up for my new business newsletter. Find me on Twitter and LinkedIn for daily tips, tricks, and insights. And, please feel free to reach out at any time. #LetsGrow!