Balancing Flexibility with Long-Term Growth

Balancing Flexibility with Long-Term Growth

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How both agencies and clients can adjust to the “new normal” of strategy and business relationships.

A surprise to absolutely nobody, advertising spend in the United States decreased in 2020 due to the COVID-19 outbreak. While there is an expected rebound in 2021, the consensus is advertising spend over the next several years will not reach the levels they were once projected in 2019 for quite some time. 

When it comes to the client-agency relationship, expectations and strategy are permanently changed. Our agency and clients learned a lot in 2020, and as a result, the partnerships have been both updated and strengthened. 

In order to be successful, agencies must balance flexibility while keeping long-term growth in mind for both their clients and themselves. There is no secret sauce to accomplish this but there are several situations that both parties can do to help ensure these relationships evolve:

Situation

The client shares as much information as possible upfront about their current state of business, the agency listens, reacts and responds.

Result 

This is obviously not a new strategy, but it must be emphasized. As a result, the campaigns become more effective and efficient. From an effectiveness standpoint, the creation of strategies and campaigns are streamlined and everybody gets on the same page at a much quicker rate. From an efficiency perspective, less rounds of revisions are necessary whether it’s strategy, creative and/or media, meaning less billed hours to the client. 

Situation

The client challenges the agency to be more thoughtful of planning around different scenarios, provide rationale for their recommendations and create a system to respond with short-term communication.

Result

The results of this benefit both parties in a significant way, primarily in the form of innovative ideation. 

For agencies, it encourages and enforces an out-of-the-box thought process and deeper dives into alternative strategies that our clients may not have utilized or thought about before, which in turn, can strengthen bonds with other clients on the roster.

Specifically for media departments, we must consider all forms of opportunistic media options that allow our clients to be nimble, find new ways to reach their target audiences and evolve our relationships with media vendors on things such as cancellation policies with traditional media entities and develop innovative, custom opportunities with all of our traditional and digital media partners. A primary benefit of this, is it makes everybody smarter and helps develop contingency plans when events such as a pandemic can affect a client’s bottom line. 

Situation

Agency can proactively inform the client of relatable creative and media trends and events that would benefit the client in both the short- and long-term. 

Result

The onus of initializing communication and providing information does not all fall on the client in this relationship. Being a thought leader and a knowledge base for our clients is absolutely crucial to our relationships. 

For example, if we were to share with our clients the graphic below, our agency can come up with several ideas and opportunities to help improve our clients’ needs:  

Bar chart of US Advertising Media Market Sizes in Billions by media channel 2020 versus 2024

It’s clear from this chart that digital media has taken over the lion’s share of the advertising market, once dominated by traditional channels such as TV, radio and print. However, without going into detail, we look at this as an opportunity to revisit placements and rates with these channels to look for efficiencies IF our clients’ strategies and objectives align correctly. 

These forward-looking conversations can result in new test budgets for agencies and different ways for our clients to reach their audiences and potentially exceed KPIs.

Conclusion

We are living in a new era. Relationships in our business have changed where we must evaluate our client’s goals much more closely from both a short-term and long-term perspective. Doing great work and getting paid for it is just a fraction of the partnership.

Transparency of information, aligning strategy, being nimble, planning for all scenarios and initializing conversations on trends are vital to the health of the agency-client relationship. Without these, deterioration is inevitable and nobody wins. 

It’s time to embrace this “new normal” and capitalize on its opportunities. – M. Russell