How local agencies can grow nationally on this newly level playing field

"All of the industry norms have fallen by the wayside."

COVID-19 has become the "great equalizer" in the ad world – the nudge many big brands needed to look beyond Madison Avenue for their next agency partner. That offers small agencies across the country a huge opportunity to gain ground on their New York City- or Chicago-based competitors.

The combination of remote work and virtual connectivity, on top of the demand for stronger creativity and greater value, has leveled the playing field. All of the factors that once allowed city-based agencies to dominate – client proximity, local presence and access to a large talent pool – have been diminished, if not eliminated, by COVID-19. 

So how can agencies outside of the ad world’s epicenter take advantage of this new window of opportunity?

Forget business as usual 

All of the industry norms have fallen by the wayside. Agencies must recognize that the stakes are even higher than before the pandemic. Clients want agencies to be a source not only of great creative, but also of big ideas and brand action. The agencies that adjust and respond to this "new normal" quickly will capture the highest volume of new opportunities.  

Excel at virtual connectivity 

Remote work is here to stay, upending the traditional client engagement model. If smaller agencies want to get ahead, they need to bring the humanity of in-person interactions to a virtual setting. By this point, everyone is familiar with "Zoom fatigue." Combat erosions in connectivity by respecting human issues (like kids in the background), being conscious not to go over the meeting time, having a clear story to tell and sharpening your presentation skills.

Embrace a client-first mindset

Now more than ever clients are going to gravitate toward agencies that demonstrate a clear understanding of what keeps brand leaders up at night. For prospective, new and existing clients, agencies should focus on how they can serve the brand’s unique needs during this time.  

Continue to invest

The most successful agencies proactively invest in developing world-class talent, processes and technology across marketing and new business, allowing them to consistently deliver excellent work. While the pandemic has tightened budgets and forced many companies to adopt a more risk-averse approach, now is not the time to become complacent in your offerings. 

Experiment without fear 

This age of innovation is not about forcing old pitch tricks into a virtual meeting space; it’s about finding new ways to connect, communicate and differentiate. There are so many firsts to be had right now. Agencies should push to explore, innovate and experiment without fear. 

Be prepared

The burden of responsibility to get up to speed on the category and bridge knowledge gaps falls on the agency, not the client. A great way for smaller agencies to gain the trust of clients is to demonstrate a deep understanding of the specific market and brainstorm creative solutions to brand problems. 

Get personal

In a value-based economic environment, prospecting tactics need to be more than just personalized — they need to be highly personal. Agencies must be ready to talk about themselves and the value they deliver to clients. It’s especially important for new agencies that clients may be less familiar with to find a personal thread they can tug to get the attention of a brand. 

The bottom line

On a newly level playing field, many smaller agencies are understandably vying for a bigger bite of the apple — and now is the perfect opportunity. Consideration and awareness must be key priorities for agencies of all sizes right now. Opportunities are more competitive. Budgets are more constrained. Companies are more risk averse. It’s time for agencies to invest in being part of the conversation — regardless of where that conversation is taking place. After all, the world is changing at a blistering pace. Small, more agile agencies are the ones that can keep up.

Simone Oppenheimer is founder of NBZ Partner, a new business and marketing consultancy supporting agencies from "pipeline to pitch."

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