It's tough out there for agencies – now more than ever. Even before the appearance of this virus, we had never seen such high levels of competition on pitches. But it’s been reassuring to see most agencies not just getting by in these turbulent times, but we’re actually seeing some amazing creativity coming out of the relative newness of "staying at home". The thrill of the hunt seems to have been the perfect antidote to the drudgery of the lockdown we read about in the news.
Clients have also adapted to the circumstances with far more empathy, openness and flexibility. This has created a kinder environment that we hope continues when things get back to normal. Clients are also taking the time to prepare proper briefs and allowing more time to get things right up front.
Increasingly, both clients and agencies are asking us to review how they work together, taking this opportunity to correct inefficient ways of doing things. For example, one client, which has had to furlough a lot of the team, asked how they can become more effective across multiple platforms and disciplines at speed.
They know things will be different once they come out of lockdown and, rather than try to improve an old, inefficient structure, they want to create a more agile, fit-for-purpose team from scratch. The ability to change the status quo and innovate offers a glimmer of hope as we look forward to the future.
Reviews have changed too. We are at the beginning of a big domestic agency review and have specifically asked agencies not to focus on the razzmatazz around the creativity of the submission but on the quality of the answers.
That said, we’ve seen more incredible and innovative submissions that ooze with energy and passion than we have in a long time – the desire to do a great job is by no way diminished because we can’t be together. We’ve also seen that agencies have found really creative ways of showcasing their key people and communicating their thoughts via video. So clients begin to get a feel for the people and chemistry, which they could not in a traditional RFI, which no-one reads anyway.
Technology has also enabled hitherto impossible global projects to reach fruition. For example, we’re in the middle of an international agency model review and it would previously have been impossible to get stakeholders from the likes of the US, Brazil, South Korea and the Brits in one room – but Microsoft Teams sorted it. Instantly.
In future, we will be using platforms like Teams or Zoom for more parts of the pitch process. It’s inevitable, especially for global pitches. It’s massively more efficient. We have even seen agencies using various platforms to share creative concepts with clients and then improving them together – in a single day. It is scarily fast!
While it’s amazing how much can be achieved from home, we are very aware of the damage the virus has caused to some industries. We work with two major airlines and we know more than anyone the extent of their issues as planes are grounded.
Last autumn, we ran the Asia-Pacific Delta Air Lines pitch and held the chemistry meetings in Seoul, agency briefing in Atlanta, tissue meetings in Shanghai and the final pitch in Tokyo. I think it will take a long time before that happens again, but it allowed the clients to understand deep insights in each country that would be otherwise impossible to achieve remotely. And when you speak to the airline clients, they are so much more positive than what we read in the news. They will be back and are planning accordingly.
It has become clear that the chemistry from proper face-to-face meetings is so much better and easier to achieve in person, and although we may in future have fewer meetings, I am missing the camaraderie and laughter that comes from working in the same room together.
Teams has its benefits but you tend not to mishear, talk over each other and repeat – because when there is a lot at stake, us humans still tend to look each other in the eye. We’ve been doing it for hundreds of years and at the core of every successful client/agency relationship is that mutual trust and desire to want to work together. We have decided we don’t need an office, but will still get together regularly. The money we save has allowed to employ another senior consultant.
The psychology of the agency pitch and the potential win has never been more important and we are delighted that agencies are so keen to get stuck into new business. It's not just a commercial imperative; it’s part of their DNA. We need to keep providing them with opportunities and clients are now seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and things are properly ramping up again. Grasp these opportunities, using technology but also your innate creativity. But never forget the human dimension. It’s what has always made the difference. And always will do.
Angus Crowther is a founding partner at Alchemists