Clients and agencies grow closer as Covid builds bond

covid-19 2Covid-19 has strengthened client-agency relationships by driving companies closer together to work through the crisis and now brand owners are chomping at the bit to launch new marketing campaigns as life begins to get back to relative normality.  

These are just two of the key findings of “The Impact of Covid-19 on UK Marketing” report by new business agency Alchemis, which surveyed senior marketers and CEOs from a representative sample of UK private, public and third sector organisations.

The report finds that, as has been well-reported, the pandemic Covid has had a major impact on marketing campaigns and budgets.

When asked to pick three areas of change, over three-quarters (77%) of respondents said they had adapted their activity, while nearly half (47%) had postponed campaigns, a third (31%) had cut back and nearly a fifth (17%) had pulled the plug.

However, there is now pent up demand for marketing activity, with over three-fifths (62%) of companies saying they intend to spend the budget that they held back in Q2 “as soon as possible”.

The coronavirus has also dramatically accelerated the move to digital, with respondents confirming their company had leapt years in the space of weeks when it came to the adoption of technology across the business and fast tracked their online operations.

The study reveals that in some cases this amounted to nothing short of a digital revolution, with people forced to adopt working practices they had previously shunned. In more cases, it was described as having accelerated the evolutionary journey companies were already on.

A significant number of respondents suggested a major change for them had also been in the content and tone of their messaging as well as their choice of communication channel.

“Hard sell” has been dropped in favour of a more empathetic tone. This has been driven by a genuine desire to help, but also a fear of being seen to be overly commercial in a time of crisis, the study said. One financial services firm confirmed it had suspended all direct mail and email marketing to clients who were healthcare workers.

When it comes to client-agency relationships, it seems the pandemic has tightened the bonds between the two, with nearly three-quarters of clients having no intention of reviewing their business.

In fact, many clients felt they had grown closer to their agencies, working side by side to grapple with the challenges the virus has thrown up. A number of respondents referred to examples of an agency going above and beyond the call of duty.

In some cases, respondents said they had asked their agencies to do more for less, but mostly the agencies had responded to the crisis by demonstrating flexibility in their approach. One trend that emerged from the interviews was that people wanted to support their incumbent agency. This was particularly true of people at companies that had been less affected by Covid.

Over three-fifths (63%) of clients said that lockdown had allowed them more time to think strategically and 22% said it had provided an opportunity to appraise current suppliers. In addition, clients expressed concerns that their incumbent agency may be overly exposed to clients badly hit by the coronavirus, casting doubt on the agency’s prospects for surviving the crisis.

Overall, the report claims, this suggests that while Q2 was a time for “sticking with what you know” there may be more opportunities for agencies later in the year.

A quarter (24%) of clients said they would outsource more, citing budget pressures due to Covid as the driving force, with recruitment freezes and possible redundancies resulting in a less resourced in-house capability.

Opportunities exist for agencies that have the specific skills and experience required and are also prepared to offer something different, the study shows.

The report concludes: “Even if the last few months have been bleak for some agencies the future is full of opportunities if they can adapt to the challenges that lie ahead for clients. Much has been made about the growing importance of ‘digital’ and where Covid has restricted ‘real world’ activity digital has filled a gap, but this is not to say digital is the be all and end all.

“Digital solved a problem in lockdown, but the key part in this sentence is ‘solved a problem’ rather than ‘digital’. The interviews revealed many examples of how agencies had helped clients by coming up with something new or different.

“It is clear clients value an agency’s ability to blend an external perspective with a creative mindset to ‘repurpose’ and ‘reimagine’ campaigns. The experience agencies have also meant that they will anticipate a problem before the client does because they have been there before with a different client. Clients value this experience when combined with a willingness to challenge and be assertive.”

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