Finding freedom in lockdown – how bigger agencies are revitalising the norm
It’s not surprising that business has been impacted by lockdown but it’s not all negative.
Every fortnight Silicon South has been hosting discussion groups for small numbers of digital, creative and tech leaders. For the leaders of some of the regions bigger agencies the impact of working from home has catalysed some radical thinking about how they might operate in the future. There observations are outlined here.
At the forefront is the release of self-imposed restrictions they have placed on their business, based on the locality of the office – e.g. if this has meant you have, predominantly, seen yourself as a Dorset-based business. The ability to be able to service clients remotely – i.e. perfectly well from a home-based workforce – shows how clients could be serviced anywhere in the country or the world.
Up to now, some companies have seen proximity to clients as being important – from now on, perhaps this is not the barrier it was previously considered to be. For some it has been the expectation of the clients wanting to meet face to face which has been the reason for this. Lockdown should have lessened that expectation. Dialling-in won’t be frowned upon as much, anymore.
For companies which carry out strong levels of national and overseas trade already, they expect to reduce their levels of travel. This frees up more working available time – which in turn improves the means to explore further market opportunities.
This opportunity works both ways, of course. As well as opening up new prospects further afield, it opens up the local client markets which agencies have traditionally seen as ‘ on their patch’ to a wider (national) agency sector. So, what improves a business’ ability to serve a more wide-spread client base.
Focusing on a niche
The benefit of focusing more strongly on a specific niche has enabled agencies to widen their geographical targeting. Increasing levels of digitisation enables clients to be served further afield. Also, a clearer niche enables a service to be more streamlined and productised, this helps set better client expectations which can be managed more straightforwardly as a remote service.
Having a niche also reduces levels of competition from the larger numbers of ‘generalist’ agencies and it increases clarity about what you offer. It helps in being seen as specialist in a specific area.
In the international market a UK business can be seen as an ‘exotic’ choice amongst the local offerings, which is attractive to some clients. In addition, British products and services are seen as top quality – British creativity are seen as world leading and that instinctively strengths the brand of any British agency, without you even needing to try.
How about showing off that quality more blatantly. Is it worth pursuing ISO standards?
It’s hard to be definitive. If it’s relevant to your specialism, then certainly yes – e.g. in finance. If it’s not, it only makes a difference to people who already required it to begin with. If it’s not expected by a client, the fact that you have ISO will make very little difference to them or their agency appointment decision.
If you decide to focus more on your niche, it helps by starting with an ABC breakdown of existing clients. Identify who makes it into the top-level A category. Look for areas of commonality between them and use that to help you define the area where you should develop your niche capabilities.
Use the data you already have access to – to identify where the most effective business was coming from; what did people seem to be looking at; where would repeat business come from, etc.
It might be worth asking yourself the question, if you were only ever paid based on your performance what would be the kind of client you would go for?
As every agency knows, selling ‘hours’ is a difficult business model. So, is it worth considering performance-based contracts? Or providing service for free in return for a share of future revenue.
The issues are that, unless you control all the data, it has to be done on trust – and the clients have to report back accurate figures. They are also in charge of the business delivery. You don’t have a say in what they do, so you have to believe they are making the right business decisions. You have no control if they run out of stock. Do you have the right level of trust to be able to do this?
Impact of home working
On the whole it seems to have been harder on younger people than older, unscientifically this might be because:
- They have smaller spaces to work in
- They do not have as much experience to rely on do deliver their work
- They have a stronger need to interact with others and are more social
- They have more energy
If younger people are released from lockdown before older people, as has been mooted, how does management supervise them? Is it possible to manage people effectively in this way? Might it be better to keep offices closed until everyone can return?
Some agencies are really enjoying how this is working – in fact, it argues for a continuation of more home working in the future.
Generally remote working has worked pretty well for most and some are considering how they can continue this after lockdown has ended. There is interest in:
- Part-time office space
- Sharing with other agencies and each agency taking over the space as their own, on alternating days
- It is not clear what the best model of sharing an office might be
- There is also interest in using empty high street spaces for offices, although this has challenges from landlords (e.g. pension funds) unwilling to shift rents down to make them affordable
It’s not clear what the perfect solution is right now – but one thing that seems certain is some of the changes forced on to business are actually revealing better ways to work, and some of that is going to stick.