Thought Leaders in association withPartners in Crime

Why There Will Be a Reset in Client/Agency Relationships after Covid-19

London, UK
INFLUENCER: Never has there been a better time to try something different and dump the legacy system, writes Harbour Collective's Paul Hammersley

This week we are seeing clients dropping daily crisis management meetings and in their place booking meetings to discuss ‘Project Relaunch’; even a client whose business has been mothballed is now running a ‘Project Revival’. 

So, to quote Churchill and Andrew Cuomo, we may now just be ‘at the end of the beginning’ and our minds must turn to what business will look like as and when we emerge from this crisis; specifically, what clients will want and need from their agencies. 

While it remains the case that there won’t ever be one model or offer which prevails, as in every other aspect of life and business, there will be change and it could be significant in breadth and depth. 

What will be the driver of this change? Will it really be that profound? Won’t we just fall back in to our old ways of working? 

I think the biggest driver, and it will be profound, is the opportunity for change as much as the need. 

What we’re seeing on a number of fronts is that if there is any upside to this mess, it is that once a business is significantly, or in some cases completely, put on hold, that creates an opportunity to start things all over. 

Annual budgets, year on year targets, market share, tracking studies: all have become irrelevant for a brief, ‘once in a career’ moment. 

Never has it been a better time to reset or start over; to try something different; to dump that legacy system. There’s no risk, no downside and no complex ‘mid-air refuelling’ process. 

Surely that is as true for how clients work with agencies; most client/agency relationships are the function of some legacy system, perhaps with a few tweaks along the way. Very few are the function of a fundamental re-think and zero basing. Why not now make the switch to that optimum, modern, relevant agency offer that you know exists but so far have been too busy, or fearful of any downside risk, to make. 

So, if you were starting again in today’s (or more importantly, the post Covid-19) world what would the characteristics of the ideal agency relationship look like?

Everything we have heard from clients during the crisis has been an amplification of what they said they increasingly wanted before – integration, collaboration, flexibility, speed and lower cost; all without any compromise in strategic, creative or executional quality. More and more we’re hearing that what they also want are innovation and ideas – not just creative or channel ideas but business ideas.

In delivering all this who are the winners and losers in ‘agency land’ likely to be? 

The losers will be those who can’t change – or can’t change fast enough. It has to be likely that these will mostly be the big network agencies; classic legacy businesses with siloed structures, complex management hierarchies, excessive fixed cost bases and a dependency on historical revenue streams.

Even before the crisis they have already shown that their ability to change is institutionally limited but with the recent collapse of revenues combined with the pressures of public shareholders this could be horrifically exacerbated. 

Just when change is most expected by clients, they will be less able than ever to deliver it. 

The winners will be agencies with lower cost bases and simpler structures; who are used to cooperating and integrating; whose scrappy attitude have seen then through the crisis by throwing ideas at their clients. These are the defining characteristics of the many independent agencies across the UK’s marketing services landscape. 

If they organise themselves in some way to partner and integrate with other specialists in their respective field - and perhaps have also found some way to also offer clients the big brand thinking that will help them adapt existing strategies, positionings and campaigns to the post Covid-19 environment - they will be especially well placed. 

If only there was a model which looked like that. Oh wait, hang on…! 

Paul Hammersley is managing partner at Harbour Collective LTD

More News from Harbour
Work from Harbour
Bestinvest 30" TVC