Agency Execs Weigh In on How to Maintain Success During Pandemic Pivots

September 2, 2020

This article originally appeared in Adweek.

At Adweek’s live virtual summit this week highlighting independent agencies and how they’ve found success during the pandemic, Facebook’s head of partner management Katie Baldwin spoke with a panel of three top agency executives: Obele Brown-West, evp of media at Tinuiti, James Townsend, global CEO of ForwardPMX and Barbara Cavness, CEO of (un)Common Logic.

To kick off the conversation that was part of Adweek’s Breaking the Mold: Creating Long-Term Success for Independent Agencies event on Tuesday, Baldwin asked the roughly 500 viewers to participate in a poll, which posed the question: “What’s the biggest challenge your agency has faced in the past six months?”

Participants had to choose one option among adjusting to the new work-from-home culture; the lack of industry events and networking to create connections and spur innovation; less in person client connections; or the effects of the economic recession on client business and budgets.

While the panelists joked that they wished they could choose all of the above, the highest percentage of respondents—57%—chose the effects of the recessionFrom there, Baldwin spoke with the panelists about the ways they’ve had to shift their practices to meet changing client needs, and how they’re working to prepare themselves and their clients for the future despite a continued sense of uncertainty.

Out of the discussion emerged three main points, which the marketers returned to several times over the course of the 40-minute panel:

1. Be a student of the data. Brown-West highlighted the opportunities that have arisen as brands move more of their business and marketing online as a result of the pandemic. While Tinuiti didn’t necessarily have to build out a new set of tools to accommodate those changes, it did require an acceleration of some of the frameworks that the team had recently built out.

Cavness also touched on that same opportunity. “There’s no excuse to not be able to come up with a really well-thought, thorough strategy to help any type of business leverage this increasing demand.”

Townsend, too, noted how Covid-19 has “accelerated existing micro behaviors,” and how marketers have the opportunity to help guide clients through this hierarchical shift.

2. Don’t be afraid to try new things. The pandemic has affected industries in different ways. In some cases, that can mean that a whole category of clients are seeing their marketing budgets disappear, meaning that agencies have to explore the idea of moving into an entirely different world of advertising. That’s OK, Cavness said, and it’s something that agencies should be prepared to do, if necessary.

It’s also a good time to try out whatever ideas you’ve been keeping on the back burner. “Find some test clients to be your your beta testers of new offering,” said Cavness.

3. Over-communicate as things change. Townsend stressed the importance of keeping everybody in the loop and maintaining standards as things are changing—because that’s not about to stop anytime soon. Being nimble is vital and change can be stimulating, but unless each player is on board as things shift, it’s not going to go smoothly.

“My view is to make sure that there is a common understanding in the business on what that pivot means you [are] going from and to,” said Townsend.

Communication is something that Brown-West said her team had to relearn after the pandemic halted travel and in-person meetups. While Tinuiti was already largely remote, it relied on face-to-face interaction to build its people-first culture, and it took some creative thinking to make sure that was maintained amid quarantine.


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