2020 is over, and what a year it was. Despite the pandemic, economic crash, social unrest, and a presidential election that continues to drag on, most agencies have managed to hold on, and many of those believe they will end the year modestly up. Yet it seems that all the events we've suffered through will roll on into next year and continue to impact ad agency new business.
Considering what we've learned from 2020, what do agencies need to do to make next year better? Marketers will be spending, some more than others. Industries will continue to recover, some faster than others. The unemployment rate will continue to decrease. It's already back to 2014 levels. Consumers are slowly getting back to consuming. Some categories have already posted greater sales than 2019. All of this means that marketers will be looking for new agencies at an increasing pace to help them dig out faster. And that's good news for everyone.
The challenge agencies are wrestling with as they plan for 2021 is how this year's events should change their prospecting strategy to win new clients. Rojek Consulting, one of the top agency search consultants, says agency culture can be a superpower. The Bedford Group, another search consultant, says acting as a business partner, not just an agency partner is the formula. Michael Gass, Tim Williams, and other agency consultants suggest finding a niche and doubling down. All good advice, but regardless of your superpower, you've got to win new clients now, or none of it will matter. I think there is another more resonant approach.
You've got to get new clients, just like marketers have to get new customers, or neither will survive. In other words, long-term investments in things like culture building or brand building are not the most pressing priorities. The demand for short-term results is why there has been a significant uptick in marketing leadership turnover and agency changes. Everyone is scrambling to make up for their losses, reverse declining trends, and reclaim momentum going into the new year. Short-term thinking is not new, but in 2021 it will be pervasive.
Marketers have never felt the pressure like they do now. Their job is on the line. The C-suite is exerting unprecedented demands across the organization because their jobs are on the line, too. Boards are growing impatient. Investors' money is at high risk, and it all comes down to the agency to save the day and their asses. That's why PPC, SEO, and digital are in such demand—short-term results. Ecommerce is exploding because of covid fears and because it is the fastest route to immediate sales with measurable real-time accountability. Agencies that have adopted this mentality will be in a much better position than those that haven't. And agencies who can do so without abandoning brand building and lifetime customer value will win.
Short term thinking is the headline for 2021. While there are visionary marketers who believe in AOR relationships, long-term brand investments, experimenting with the latest innovations, and have the budgets and backing of their organization, many more do not have the luxury. For most of your prospects, whose career is on the line, getting results fast is the number one priority. It will vary by industry, notably those hit hard this year compared with those who have thrived.
Short-termism infects marketers in different ways. The symptoms are numerous and vary across the prospect universe. There is no real cure, even when we get past all the pandemic disruption. The market trended this way pre-covid, but now it is accelerating exponentially, and there may be no turning back. For agencies to be successful in 2021, they will have to adjust their approach, messaging, and service offerings to align with these changes.
- More frequent turnover in marketing and agencies
- Faster searches for new agencies
- The unpredictability of the market and marketers
- Obsessed with stopping the loses
- Immediate bottom-line results
- Focused on quantifying the ROI of everything
- Smaller budgets
- More in-housing
- Increasing smaller project assignments
- Restlessness and Impatience
Consider what marketers are talking about and asking in their RFPs and project scopes today. "Describe how your solution will impact sales in the next 3, 6, and 9 months," "In 2019 we had an average churn rate of 15%. What % churn decrease can you commit to in the first quarter," or "Our monthly sales rate was growing by 3.3% per month in 2019. We've stabilized losses and have started seeing modest increases, but it's not enough. Describe how you can accelerate sales and by how much each month." Just today, JetBlue Airways, launched a review of its creative business, "The brand needs to find ways to do smarter marketing with smaller budgets due to the current travel environment." In the next three months, in the first quarter, month-to-month, smaller budgets, all clearly express today's need. Can you help? Of course, you can.
Knowing what to say is the easy part. Getting in front of the right people is arguably much harder. The last couple of years has seen a dizzying increase in the number of agencies of all different kinds, hybrid marketing resources, media platforms, technology solutions, and many more. Marketers used to get 3 – 5 unsolicited inquiries a week. That number has quadrupled, and as the industry's fracturing continues, many more will compete for the decision-makers precious time.
It may seem impossible but consider this. The marketer has to solve her problem, whether there is one solution or one thousand. She will search for an answer, ask her colleagues, read the trades, search the net, scan the blogs, whatever she thinks is the fastest and best way to get what she needs. The challenge is to intersect her search with the right information, peak interest, and convey trust and confidence in your solution.
A central requirement for short-term thinking is industry expertise and specialty. It has always been high on the list, but today more than ever, marketers looking for the shortest path to results are placing even greater value on an agency's experience and understanding of their business, industry, market, and customer. Search consultants have confirmed this. Prominent agency consultants as well. Once an agency has established its credibility, it must communicate its capability to solve the day's most pressing challenge, short-term results.
The prospect has to be confident your agency has the right experience and skills to impact the business immediately. But it doesn't stop there, and she needs your help. She has to be confident enough in all your proof-points to go to the C-suite and convince them that her approach, resources (you), and the budget request will make it happen. She has to go to others, too, for buy-in since the spotlight is on her from all parts of an ailing organization. She also has to include partners, affiliates, distribution networks, and resellers to convince them and keep everyone aligned and contributing to the end goal. It's never been more complicated, yet more obvious. As long as you line up your agency messaging; elevator pitch, email, call script, blog content, social media, et al, with the tangible and emotional drivers of short-termism.
Time to start planning!
If you'd like help translating your agency's prospecting strategy, positioning, value proposition, and benefits to a short-termism marketplace, let's talk. There's no better time than now to rethink and reset your business development program. I am always open to discussing your business development challenges. If you like this post, sign up for my new business newsletter. Find me on LinkedIn for daily tips and insights. Feel free to reach out at any time. #LetsGrow!