Embracing client fears is paying dividends – shifting business models

Embracing client fears is paying dividends – shifting business models

Don’t hold your breath, but there is promising news for anyone hoping that Covid-19 might stop dominating every thought, word and news report. The whispers coming from the latest discussion group amongst leaders of mid-sized agencies suggests there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Fair enough – the media isn’t going to stop talking about the pandemic until there is a better way to sell advertising space things have levelled out and there are other important topics to consider… However, what was really interesting about this conversation were the strong feelings each creative and digital founder expressed about wrestling back greater control of their business.

Over the past 6 weeks of lockdown, the narrative has been dominated by the need to confront, react and respond to a brand-new set of circumstances that no one has faced before. But it feels like the confronting, reacting and responding stage has been completed – Phase 1 at least.

With the situation accepted and to some extent controlled, the doors have been opened to that all-important question about ‘how do we move forward from here’? Part of the reason for this sense of control has been a steady return of clients. In March, it felt as if clients had disappeared off the face of the earth. But they too seem to have adjusted more quickly than was feared, and they are beginning to pick up on old projects or are rushing through new ideas to help them respond to the new situation.

Obviously, that’s not the case for every sector, and there are still large swathes of the economy which face much longer periods of hardship. I’m not suggesting they should be dismissed, and the inevitable rise in unemployment will be tough and unfair for many. The point is that, for the digital and creative economy, the scope of damage and its impact on the industry is beginning to be assessed and understood… for now, at least.


So how do businesses want to move on from here?

One thing many companies are accepting is a shift in the way of doing business. Companies that normally wouldn’t have got out of bed for less than £10k are starting to see projects with a lower value – and in some cases no value – a necessary (even promising) way to develop relationships, which can lead to bigger and better contracts.

Clients are rightfully cautious; some are downright petrified. With revenues decimated and the furlough end-date skipping down the calendar, holding on to cash is seen as imperative. So, clients don’t want to spend unless they can have some of their fears allayed and risks mitigated.

It’s a great opportunity for creative teams to use their creative thought-process to help a non-creative company understand the threats and opportunities in a different light. We’re uniquely placed for this. For starters, we have expertise in understanding what their customers want: We understand the difference between need and demand; We know when their customers want the sizzle not the sausage; Most agencies are at least a page ahead of their clients in understanding behavioural science too (and if you’re not, why not?!).

Agencies look at new challenges every day, while most clients deliver the same products and services day-in day-out. Letting them dip their toe in the water by helping out with a new, low-cost project is proving an efficient way for clients to experience new concepts – in a way that agencies take for granted. If you do your job right, you can 1) help prove a concept and 2) educate them as you go along, about how they can reach their bigger goals.

Perhaps, what this is showing is that what we do is not always the most important bit – at least, that’s not what clients always want. It’s what we know and how we do it which is making a difference. Could this be a defining ‘CD moment’ for agencies – as it was for the music industry? Say you’re a web developer -half the world can build their own website on Wix now. So, what can you offer – Where do you think your value is?

The experiences of our discussion group suggests it’s the thought process, guidance and reassurance that clients really value right now. And that might have a big impact on how we move forward.

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